Too Late for Tears, but Never Too Late for Censorship: A Look into the Film's Production Code Administration File
May 8, 2016
This post was written for Flicker Alley's Detectives and Dames blogathon, which has highlighted an article each week to celebrate the May 10th DVD/Blu-Ray release of recently restored classic films noir Too Late for Tears (1949) and Woman on the Run (1950). If you'd like to read more about both movies, check out Flicker Alley's site here.
The Production Code, the document which guided screen morality for over 30 years, still ruled the roost during the late 1940s, when the shadowy figures of film noir began infiltrating American pictures in large numbers. The hard edge, stark violence (or insinuation of such), suggestive sexuality, and other dark components that characterize these movies met with strong pushback from those at the Production Code Administration (PCA). Newly restored noir classic Too Late for Tears, released in 1949 and starring Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea, was no exception as the film's PCA file proves, which is housed in the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library.
Too Late for Tears began life as Nothing but the Night, according to a script Warner Brothers sent to PCA head Joseph Breen on January 4th, 1947. Breen's January 9th response to Milton Sperling at Warners relayed the news that the basic premise of the film was acceptable under the Production Code; however, Breen wanted to call Sperling's attention to a few questionable episodes and lines of dialogue.
Watch out, Lizabeth Scott's got a gun.
These examples included, first and foremost, the "need for the greatest possible care in the selection and photographing of the costumes and dresses for your women," as intimate parts of the body, "specifically, the breasts of women" must be covered all the time. Aside from that, the PCA seemed particularly riled up by scenes featuring drinking (unless absolutely necessary) and concealing evidence, including, most notably, the wiping of fingerprints, which basically provided a blueprint to imitating a crime, according to the PCA. For instance, Breen noted in this regard: "Where Jane is shown scrubbing the blood off the bottom of the boat, please be sure that this cannot possibly be construed as her wiping off finger-prints." Violence was another touchy area, especially where brutality was concerned, as Breen stressed: "Please exercise all possible care in the filming of the scene where Jane beats her husband to death with a revolver, so as to avoid as much brutality as possible." The simple implication of beating a husband to death with a revolver qualifies as brutal, don't you think?
...and Jane Palmer (Scott)'s got one again. This can't end well for her husband, Alan (Arthur Kennedy).
Following the above initial suggestions, the PCA file for Too Late for Tears picks up again in June 1948, when the script was re-submitted to Breen by Republic Pictures with a shiny new title, Too Late for Tears. On June 23rd, 1948 the PCA's Stephen S. Jackson replied to producer Hunt Stromberg to call attention to more problematic moments in the tale while voicing approval of the overall story. Curiously, this list far exceeded the previous one (not to mention the script numbered at least 143 pages at this time). Some issues, such as the infamous removal of any and all fingerprints, still loomed, while new concerns, including accusations of scenes inspiring "sex suggestive flavor," arose. Furthermore, several snippets of dialogue, such as: "With onions!" were deemed unacceptable (can someone please explain that one to me?), while requests to tone down stage directions for more passionate sequences were issued: "There should be no open-mouthed, prolonged or lustful kissing." Obviously, this note was in reference to Danny (Dan Duryea) and Jane (Lizabeth Scott)'s illicit affair. Speaking of the adulterous pair, the PCA politely asked Republic to remove a scene in which Danny slaps Jane. If you've seen one of the posters for Too Late for Tears and/or watched the film already, you'll notice that obviously didn't happen.
This would be one of those aforementioned posters.
Republic mailed the proposed shooting script to the PCA on July 30th, and Breen replied on August 4th with some more comments. This memo included substantially fewer notes, though suggestive dialogue and actions, such as Danny placing his hand on Jane's hip and kissing that was still deemed "passionate, prolonged or open-mouth," were flagged. Rather strikingly, Breen also pointed out three instances where Danny slaps Jane, on pages 19, 28 and 53, two more than mentioned in the previous communication. If the PCA complained about one slap, I'm guessing three wouldn't fly either.
Republic complied and sent more revisions over on August 20th. It seemed the modifications were satisfactory...almost. On the 23rd, Breen replied that a singular dissolve on Danny and Jane should not imply a sexual tryst: "Any flavor of an illicit sex affair between Danny and Jane could not be approved in the finished picture." Undoubtedly, the dissolve was used to suggest as much, but really, with the request to delete the quick transitional device, the PCA was severely underestimating, or really counting against, the audience's ability to read in between the clearly delineated lines; to be honest, I don't think Jane and Danny's coupling could possibly suggest any other type of relationship.
There's not much to argue about concerning the nature of Jane and Danny (Dan Duryea)'s relationship.
On September 7th, the script finally secured full approval from the PCA but with the same parting line that echoed in one way or another in most PCA correspondence: "You understand, of course, that our final judgment will be based upon the finished picture." Regardless of the overt references to brutality and an affair between Danny and Jane that still noticeably existed in the movie, no red flags were raised in the film's analysis chart after the final product was reviewed. This page made note of such points as to how sympathetic each main character was (surprise: "Yo. Married Woman" Jane and "Her Accomplice (Male)" Danny were marked as unsympathetic), how public officials and races were characterized, the types of crime portrayed ("Blackmail-Murder-Robbery"), other violence shown ("Slaps-Gunshot"), the fate of the criminals, and whether drunkenness was displayed (a simple: "Yes"). Ironically, the adultery box was left unchecked.
Too Late for Tears earned certificate #13539 from the PCA, granted on February 7th, 1949 along with the usual authorization letter from Breen stating that only exact copies of the picture sanctioned would be cleared under the official document. Rather surprisingly, Too Late for Tears was "approved without eliminations" by the New York State Censor Board on Mach 31st and earned the same endorsement from several other state boards over the next month. The movie's effortless go-ahead from New York's censor group, generally one of the nation's strictest, proved startling to me; however, Republic's luck ran out by June 4th when the Ohio State Board, another demanding censor faction, got their hands on the film. Ohio's unit demanded the elimination of several sexually suggestive lines, including the underlined in Jane's dialogue: "...and I let you in because...well, housewives can get awfully bored sometimes" and in Danny's: "I think probably some day you will kill me...and I wouldn't want that to happen unless we were...good friends." A few other state censor boards, such as Pennsylvania, made comments on select scenes, but other than that, Too Late for Tears was generally good to go in the US and earned mostly positive reviews and a solid box office return.
Too Late for Tears DVD cover from Flicker Alley.
To judge for yourself just how severe the PCA was with this picture (or, alternatively, perhaps how much Republic got away with), pre-order your copy of Too Late for Tears today. Add in Woman on the Run and you've got the makings of a terrifically thrilling double feature!
Arnold, Jeremy. "Too Late for Tears." TCMDb. TCM. Web. 5 May 2016.
Motion Picture Association of America. Production Code Administration records, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.