Return of the Lost Noir Classics: Too Late for Tears & Woman on the Run

| May 12, 2016

Flicker Alley, a distributor whose consistently impressive output we’ve touted at length here on FilmMonthly, has partnered with the Film Noir Foundation and the UCLA Film & Television Archive to bring two once nearly-lost and now newly-restored film noir classics to home video, each in its own deluxe Blu-ray/DVD combo edition release. The first of these films, Byron Haskin’s Too Late for Tears (1949) was nearly lost to the sands of time as the location of the only U.S. print was doomed to remain a mystery when the man who owned it died. The story of its restoration, related in a special feature on Flicker Alley’s release of the film, is a fascinating one that emphasizes just how lucky we are to be able to view the film today, especially in the gorgeous state its presented on the Blu-ray.

The story of the second feature’s restoration, though, is even more tumultuous. As related in a featurette on that release, the only known 35mm print of Norman Foster’s Woman on the Run (1950) was burned in a 2008 fire at a Universal vault. The only copy of Woman on the Run that could be found thereafter was a nitrate print sans sound. Fortunately for cinema history, a less-than-perfectly-legal dupe of the film had been made in case something ever happened to the print, and that dupe was used to source the sound for the restored version found on its Flicker Alley release. That these films were so very nearly lost should be reason enough for cinephiles and film noir buffs to seek out these two releases immediately.

Of course, simply being obscure and almost lost does not mean the films are any good. I know that. The thing is, though, these films are both terrific examples of what film noir has to offer, which also makes these releases perfectly viable introductions to film noir for the uninitiated!

 

Too Late for Tears is about as noir a film noir as I’ve ever seen. It follows a seemingly average housewife played by Lizabeth Scott (The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)) whose truly insidious nature starts to show after a bag of illicit cash drops into her and her husband’s laps. Dan Duryea, who’s seen as every bit the film noir legend Scott is for his work in films like Scarlet Street (1945) and Criss Cross (1949), delivers a powerfully nuanced performance in Too Late for Tears as a hood with a conscience plotting with Scott’s character to procure the cash from her husband. Their tandem descent into murderous depravity is filled with all the twists and turns you’d expect of a noir of the sort as the film hurtles toward a denouement that’s sure to be as bleak as the rest of the proceedings. In fact, outside of 1945’s Detour, I can’t say as I’ve encountered a film noir so thoroughly bleak as Too Late for Tears. And if that isn’t a glowing recommendation of a film noir, I don’t know what is!

Bonus materials on the Too Late for Tears release include:
-Audio commentary by writer, historian, and film programmer Alan K. Rode;
-“Chance Of A Lifetime: The Making of Too Late For Tears,” a behind-the-scenes examination of the film’s production;
-“Tiger Hunt: Restoring Too Late For Tears,” a featurette about the film’s multi-year restoration;
-and a 24-page booklet featuring rare photographs, poster art, original lobby cards, and an essay by writer and noir-expert Brian Light.

 

Woman on the Run, by contrast, isn’t nearly as dreary as Too Late for Tears, but it’s equally worth your time. I in fact prefer it over Too Late for Tears, though perhaps that makes me a poor film noir fan—I don’t know. What appeals to me about Woman on the Run is its follow-the-trail-of-clues manhunt format, which makes the film consistently exciting and engaging. It too follows the exploits of a housewife, but here the housewife, Eleanor (Ann Sheridan, I Was a Male War Bride (1949)), isn’t of the deliciously evil, back-stabbing sort Lizabeth Scott played in Too Late for Tears. In the film, Eleanor finds herself forced to track down her husband, with whom she is less-than-close, after he witnesses a mob murder and flees from both criminals and the law.

I find Woman on the Run’s structure absolutely inspired and terribly smart as it seamlessly infuses a manhunt narrative with a love story. In doing so, it becomes the story of a woman falling in love, which has been done countless times of course, only here she’s falling in love with her husband, who isn’t even in most of the film. She discovers as she searches that she in fact had never put forth the effort to really get to know him. And what she learns through the clues he leaves around town for her is that he’s a far better man than she’d ever given him credit for. By leaving viewers to wonder if she’ll actually ever get the opportunity to reveal her newfound affections to him accentuates the mounting tension as Eleanor and who knows who else zeroes in on her husband’s location. It’s a masterfully crafted film that culminates in a climax set around, atop, and under a speeding roller coaster that makes every step of the journey worthwhile.

Both of these films are well worth picking up in their individual releases from Flicker Alley. Honestly, though, while I do personally see myself returning to Woman on the Run a tad more often than Too Late for Tears, I can’t see owning one without the other, as they complement each other so perfectly. In that, they make for one incredible, and previously impossible, double feature!

 

Bonus materials on the Woman on the Run release include:
-Audio commentary by author, cinema historian, and “noirchaelogist” Eddie Muller;
-“Love is a Rollercoaster: Woman on the Run Revisited,” a featurette looking at the making of the film;
-“A Wild Ride: Restoring Woman on the Run,” a featurette about the film’s multi-year restoration;
-“Woman on the Run Locations Then and Now,” a featurette in which the City Sleuth (aka Brian Hollins) leads a virtual tour around San Francisco, hunting down the many locations used during the film’s production;
-A short documentary by Joe Talbot about the annual NOIR CITY film festival presented by the Film Noir Foundation at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre;
-and a 24-page booklet featuring rare photographs, poster art, original lobby cards, and an essay by Eddie Muller.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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