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SHEDDING LIGHT ON FILM NOIR

The reported death of DVDs and Blu-rays is decidedly premature, especially when it comes to specialized product that film buffs crave. Flicker Alley has released two rare features in conjunction with the Film Noir Foundation and the UCLA Film & Television Archive: Too Late for Tears and Woman on the Run. They both feature behind-the-scenes featurettes and elaborate 24-page booklets. The two movies share one other thing in common: they no longer belong to the studios that first distributed them, and as “orphan films” were in desperate need of restoration. We can thank the Film Noir Foundation for Too Late for Tears postercoming to their rescue.

Too Late For Tears (1949) has a terrific premise: nice-guy Arthur Kennedy and his wife (Lizabeth Scott) have their lives altered when someone tosses a bag full of cash into their car. That’s when Scott’s true colors come out. Brian Light offers an enlightening look at how young writer Roy Huggins’ magazine story transferred to the screen, while noir expert Alan K. Rode provides an informative commentary track. Steven Smith’s behind-the-scenes documentary includes sharp observations from noir aficionados and an interview with Dan Duryea’s son, who provides insights on his father’s off-screen life. As it happens, this movie offers his dad one of his all-time best roles: he’s not a stereotypical villain but an unusually complex character. Lizabeth Scott also gives a solid performance as the ultimate femme fatale, although she told Rode that it was her least favorite film!


Woman on the Run (1950) is particularly entertaining,  thanks to a snappy screenplay by director Norman Foster and writer Alan Campbell (Dorothy Parker’s husband), based on a magazine story by Woman on the Run One SheetSylvia Tate. The story has a dog-walker witnessing a murder one night. When he learns that the dead man was about to inform on an underworld figure, and the cops now need him to testify, he takes it on the lam. The police approach his wife (Ann Sheridan) to help them find her missing spouse but she is surprisingly sullen and uncooperative; it seems they have become estranged and she knows very little about him.

Almost every scene in this tense little thriller is heightened by sharp, colorful dialogue. What’s more, cinematographer Hal Mohr’s filming of San Francisco locations is exceptional …even though the opening scene was shot at Bunker Hill and L.A. and the amusement-park finale is Santa Monica’s Pacific Ocean Park. (That’s Hollywood for you…)

Sheridan and Dennis O’Keefe are very good in the leads, while every supporting role is filled by an experienced character actor. It’s fun to see Robert Keith, Ross Elliott, Frank Jenks, John Qualen, Steven Geray, Victor Sen Yung, Syd Saylor, J. Farrell MacDonald, and Joan Shawlee (then known as Joan Fulton) make the most of their screen time, no matter how brief.

Woman on the Run was in need of preservation because the last surviving 35mm print was destroyed in a fire at Universal some years ago and the studio no longer owns the picture. It was independently produced under the Fidelity Pictures banner by Howard Welsch (who made Fritz Lang’s House by the River the same year) and, according to Eddie Muller, coproduced by Sheridan herself. Muller adds his authoritative voice to the commentary track on this picture, and Steven Smith’s behind-the-scenes featurettes are enjoyable and informative.

Thank goodness the Film Noir Foundation has become actively involved in locating and saving such orphaned films. If you’re not already a member of the FNF, I encourage you to visit their website, purchase some of their fine publications, and become involved. And if you’re not aware of Flicker Alley’s ongoing series of DVD/Blu-ray releases, be sure to click HERE.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

2 comments

  1. Rob Edelman says:

    Hi Leonard,

    The following should be of interest:
    http://wamc.org/post/rob-edelman-film-noir-restorations#stream/0

    Cheers,

    Rob

  2. Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve been to your blog before but after looking at many
    of the articles I realized it’s new to me.
    Anyways, I’m certainly delighted I found it and I’ll be bookmarking it and checking
    back often!

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