AKA: Killer Bait
This piece was originally Published by Brian Sauer on his blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks as part of the Underrated Thrillers series by author Jen Johans in the fall of 2014.
Considering the fact that Byron Haskin is best known for helming movies that drew heavily on his extensive background as a Warner Brothers special effects head (including Disney’s first feature length foray into live action via Treasure Island and the 1953 Orwell adaptation of The War of the Worlds), it’s no wonder that his late ‘40s thrillers get lost in the shuffle.
However, Noir fans would do well to seek out the one-two punch of I Walk Alone and Two Late for Tears that Haskin executed prior to Island which teamed him up with under-utilized B-movie actress Lizabeth Scott for a pair of potent pictures.
Seduced by the enviable cast including Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas (in an early turn fresh off his impressive work in Out of the Past), when sought out by genre scholars, most of the ink has been spilled about Walk.
But when compared side by side, in truth it’s the less flashy 1949 public domain gem Too Late for Tears (also known as Killer Bait) that’s far worthier of cult classic status alongside other low-budget public domain favorites such as Quicksand and Detour.
Easily the more compelling of the two, Tears also sets itself apart by centering the entire film around a female antihero – which in retrospect helped anticipate the ‘80s and ‘90s revisionist Neo-Noirs that harked back to genre classics while giving women much stronger roles.
Following an accidental money drop which finds a bag filled with sixty thousand dollars erroneously tossed into Lizabeth Scott’s car, the quick-thinking blonde decides to do everything in her power to play finders keepers, even if that means bumping off her straitlaced husband (and anyone who crosses her path) to get her way.
What could’ve been a fairly straightforward crime melodrama about the evils of greed (as predictably one misdeed follows another) turns into a surprisingly complex web of comeuppance, calculation, and intrigue as new players appear out of the woodwork changing the rules and adding new layers to the already escalating plotline.
Based on a serial from The Saturday Evening Post and adapted by its author Roy Huggins (who would go on to create TV’s The Fugitive, Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip), Tears offered both Scott and former bit player turned I Walk Alone actress Kristine Miller two of the best written roles of their careers.
Likewise the film not only helped anticipate the future directorial success of Haskin but also offers an early glimpse of the same character driven multifaceted plotting that would hold viewers captive for decades once Huggins took his mind for murderous mysteries to the small screen.
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