The Big Heat was enjoyable for its enveloping atmosphere of corruption and the psychological tension in Bannion, the hero. Too Late for Tears [YouTube clip]is a treat because it features the most thoroughly characterized and completely evil femme fatale that I’ve ever seen in noir. She is played by Lizabeth Scott, who had a string of such roles. She looks mean, even when she’s trying to be nice, and she has a voice even more husky than Kathleen Turner’s.
This movie wastes no time – the first scene has Scott and her husband driving to a dinner party when she starts complaining that she doesn’t want to go because the hosts will look down on her, they’re so snooty. She finally grabs the wheel in an attempt to force her husband to turn around and go home, and he skids to a stop. A car drives by and hurls a leather satchel into their back seat. It’s filled with cash. There you have it – her deep-seated psychological unease about her social position, her violence and impulsivity, and a pile of money to set them ablaze.
After evading the crook who tries to catch up with them to retrieve what was supposed to have been given to him, the couple fights about what to do with the money. He wants to give it to the police – she wants to keep it, spend it! They compromise, and he deposits it in a locker at the train station, hoping she’ll calm down and give in.
Nothin’ doing! She starts spending money on luxuries, and hiding them in the kitchen cabinets. Minks, dresses, accessories. When he gets a call from his banker about the state of his checking account, he confronts her. She reveals her deeply wounded childhood: “We were poor. Not hungry poor. Middle-class poor!” (That’s worse!) People always looking down at them because they couldn’t keep up. It’s what drives her, but hubby is a little too simple to see what a beast he has by the tail. Dan Duryea, the crook who finally catches up with her to demand his blackmail loot, is smarter. He gives her the nickname, Tiger, and he finds out he has her by the tail, and only barely. Her lust for loot is terrifying.
Finally, near the end, she makes off for Mexico with the cash. Hubby and the crook have been dealt with. We see her checking in at a fancy hotel, and her delight at finally reaching the sphere where she belongs is almost girlish. She is having the time of her life. Crime really pays! Funny, it’s rare in films that you ever see the bad guys enjoying their ill gotten gains. Of course, her high time doesn’t last long.