What would you do if you found $600,000 in unmarked bills?
Would you turn it in to the police? Or would you claim ownership, as per the “Finder’s Keepers” Agreement?
We were mulling over this unlikely event after re-watching the 1949 film noir, Too Late for Tears, starring Lizabeth Scott and Arthur Kennedy. The film examines What Happens when a couple receives an unexpected and illegal windfall – in this case, $60,000 cash (approx. $633,000 US today).
Scott and Kennedy portray the married, but mismatched, couple. Kennedy is a respectable, middle class man with a nice car and nice apartment. He’s also a People Pleaser.
Scott, on the other hand, doesn’t concern herself with the happiness of others. She’s the one who matters, Baby, and life ain’t giving her the riches she deserves. Look at how she complains about their friends, especially a “diamond-studded” woman who looks down on her.
Kennedy humours Scott, and indulges her as much as he can. Why shouldn’t he? He’s in love with her and doesn’t see – or chooses to overlook – some of her aggressive tendencies. He’s in this relationship for the Long Haul.
One night, as the couple travels down L.A.’s Mulholland Drive, a leather bag is tossed into the back of their convertible from a passing vehicle. They pull over and examine the contents.
It’s full of money.
Immediately, Kennedy insists the money should be given to the police. But Scott has Other Ideas. Turn the money in?! Are you kidding? Let’s keep it and be Rich!
But Kennedy will not be dissuaded. At least, that’s what he claims.
So. When their car is pulled over a few moments later for a routine traffic violation, Kennedy doesn’t report the money to the policeman. In fact, he lies about who they are and where they’re going.
Before we go any further, there are two things you should know.
One: Arthur Kennedy was an exceptional film actor; he had five (5!) Oscar nominations to prove it. He was also a highly-respected Broadway actor, who appeared in the original productions of some notable Arthur Miller plays (e.g. The Crucible). He won a Tony Award in 1949 for his portrayal of Biff in Death of a Salesman.
Two: Film noir is a cynical breed of film, usually involving a crime or other incident that Spirals out of Control. There are few saints in film noir; everyone is tainted to some degree. Plus, there’s often a dame who’s Trouble.
So when a Respectable Man with a dissatisfied wife is thrown a bag full of money, it presents a perfect film noir crisis: The situation that can’t be contained.
You see, deep down, this man wants the money – really wants it – but doing the Right Thing is important. It’s Who He Is.
Kennedy the actor gives us an excellent portrayal of a man wrestling his conscience, and losing. Every time he objects to the money, Scott has a better reason for keeping it. She’s clever and persistent, and the only way he can buy some time (read: peace) is to try to outmaneuver her.
Frankly, the role of the husband is one that could be sloughed off by a lesser actor and the film would still work. But Kennedy isn’t that kind of actor. Look at the way he clutches the bag of cash, as though he’s carrying his own death warrant.
And when he and Scott empty the bag in their apartment, he gazes at the money with a mix of fear and wonder, and nearly becomes hysterical when someone knocks on the apartment door.
It’s a big decision, what to do with all this money. Ultimately, the decision is made for him, and when it is, we feel a genuine pang of loss.
Too Late for Tears has a more complex plot than we’ve outlined here. But we don’t want to give too much away. It’s a film you simply must see.
When you do watch it, note the superb casting – especially Arthur Kennedy’s portrayal of a man facing the most expensive crisis of his life.
This post is part of the ARTHUR KENNEDY’S CONQUEST OF THE SCREEN BLOGATHON hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema.
Too Late for Tears: starring Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Dan Duryea. Directed by Byron Haskin. Written by Roy Huggins. Republic Studios, 1949, B&W, 99 mins.