If there’s one thing film noir has taught us–if you end up with a mysterious bag of money that is not your own, you don’t have long to live. Just leave it where it lies. It was true in No Country for Old Men, and certainly true of Too Late for Tears, a 1949 noir by Byron Haskin, re-released in 1955 with the more sanguine title, Killer Bait. It also features one of the most avaricious femme fatales in noir history.
Arthur Kennedy and Lizabeth Scott are driving through the Hollywood Hills when a car speeds by from the other direction and drops a bag in the back seat of their convertible. They open it and find oodles of cash. Scott immediately wants to keep it, while the more reasonable Kennedy wants to turn it into the police. A car comes up behind them, clearly the car the money was intended for, and Scott gets behind the wheel and races away.
Kennedy agrees to keep the money for a week, and puts in the baggage claim at Union Station. Meanwhile, the intended recipient of the money, Dan Duryea, tracks down Scott and tries to muscle her out of the money. He soon realizes he’s in over his head. He’s only a blackmailer–she’s a barracuda.
Scott eventually kills Kennedy and schemes to get the money, not knowing where the claim ticket is. Kennedy’s sister, Kristine Miller, grows suspicious when Scott tells her that Kennedy has run away with another woman. A man claiming to be an old friend of Kennedy’s, Don DeFore, shows up, and he ends up helping Miller prove Scott killed Kennedy.
Scott, who was a frequent cast member in film noir, really cleans up in this movie, as once she sees that money she exhibits a pathological greed. Duryea, one of my favorite character actors from the ’40s, gives a very interesting and shaded performance. At first he’s the tough guy, but as the film goes on, he follows Scott’s lead, which is not good for this health. I liked DeFore’s performance, but he seemed kind of familiar in a sit-com sort of way, and sure enough, he was the next-door neighbor on the Ozzie and Harriet show, which kind of makes seeing him in a gritty film like this out of place.
The film has been in public domain for ages and is in terrible shape, but it’s still a clever and menacing little movie, mainly thanks to Scott’s ferocious performance. Remember, if you find a satchel full of cash, just walk on by.