Still trying to recreate Turner Classic Movies, Siren got something called the Mystery DVD Pack (about $32 including shipping and handling), 50 movies of wildly varying quality on 12 double-sided DVDs. When she's bored or wants a hour's relaxation she's been watching an old B movie or noir. Murder at Midnight (1931) is a lumbering relic of a film that's interesting mainly to show how fast acting technique evolved in the early '30s. But it does illustrate an unusual police interrogation technique. One cop is eating peanuts, cracking them and scattering the shells on the floor. "Will you STOP eating those things! Stop it, I tell you!" the suspect yells. "He'll stop eating them," another officer says grimly, "when you start talking."
I had better luck with Too Late for Tears (1949) (a.k.a. Killer Bait), directed by Byron Haskin and starring Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea and Arthur Kennedy. Scott plays Jane, an average housewife--average, that is, for about one-half of the first scene. Then someone tosses a satchel full of cash into the backseat of the convertible she's riding in with husband Alan (Kennedy). The second they open the case, Jane's sole aim in life becomes hanging onto that money.
Like most film noir femmes, Jane doesn't suddenly go to the bad. You find out fast that she always was bad, just putting on a good act with nebbishy, middle-class Alan, who knows why. Alan warns Jane that the money has an owner who'll be coming back to collect. Sure enough, here comes Dan Duryea, in full-dress bad guy mode, wanting his money. But Jane's sex appeal is a little too much for him. Instead of just beating her until she squawks, he gives her a chance ... and another, and another. Yep, he's hooked.
I liked the snappy plot in which nearly all of the characters have more going on than it seems, even fuddy-duddy Alan. I also liked the dazzlingly pretty Kristine Miller, who's interesting despite playing Alan's nice-girl sister. (Her career seems not to have amounted to much, which is a pity.) The performances are good right down to the minor characters, and the script has wit enough to compensate for gaps in logic.
Too Late for Tears doesn't have the intensity or complex themes of a top-notch noir like The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, which had made Scott a star three years earlier. And then there's the lackluster, cut-rate look of the thing, despite top-notch cinematographer William C. Mellor. Every room looks like a floor model from a furniture store, right up to the motel room where Duryea hangs his fedora. And the movie also shows why costumes matter. Even when she's supposedly spending the cash, poor Lizabeth has to vamp it up in some of the frumpiest, most ill-fitting ensembles imaginable. Outdated too; you'd never know this movie was filmed two years after Dior's New Look hit the scene. Whoever heard of a femme fatale with such lousy taste? Even trampy Phyllis Dietrichson had a better wardrobe.
A word about this Mystery DVD Pack. The print quality ranges from appalling to adequate. I spent much of the late 1980s watching movies at Theatre 80 St. Marks, where the prints were church-basement-movie-night quality. So I can overlook some glitches, the same way I don't mind the hiss and pops on an old sound recording. Too Late for Tears doesn't look awful in this version, but has a lot of splices that annoyed even me. (So far the worst was The Man on the Eiffel Tower, a DVD transfer from a print so bad I'm unsure whether to discuss it here, since in some sense I can't be said to have seen it. I probably will write it up anyway, as part of my Charles Laughton series.) Anyway, the per-movie price boils down to about 64 cents a movie, so you can decide if that's worth the so-so prints.