Aging L.A. gumshoe Ira Wells’s (Art Carney, Harry and Tonto) glory days are long gone. Once an ace private detective, he is barely making ends meet nowadays. When Ira’s ex-partner (Howard Duff, Kramer vs. Kramer) shows up at his doorsteps mortally wounded, Ira feels compelled to solve the friend’s death. The investigation takes a strange turn when Ira bumps into part-time drug dealer Margo Sperling (Lily Tomlin, Nashville), who wants to hire Ira to find her missing cat.
Reaction & Thoughts:
We felt very nostalgic in the 1970s. This might explain why most popular films of the era (American Graffiti, The Godfather, The Sting, etc.) took place in the past. Heck, even Star Wars was a throwback to the serials of the 1930s. Robert Benton’s The Late Show is both an homage to classic noir, and an abrogation of the genre. The result is a brand new noir for modern audiences.
The Late Show is one of my favorite ’70s films. I just love it. I like everything about the film; the colorful characters, the sly humor, the cooky situations, etc. Even the murder-mystery is pretty good. I’ve seen it multiple times and I think it gets better with each viewing — it’s really a lot of fun!
The film was produced by Robert Altman (Quintet and Gosford Park) and you feel his influence all over the place. The quirky characters, the messy structure, etc. I’m not taking anything away from director Benton though. He wrote a fantastic script. It’s both amusing and surprising in the right places. Benton also proves that he was as good a director as Altman. He constructs a few fantastic sequences that recall the great Bogie films of yesterday — fans of classic noir will recognize Benton’s little tributes.
Art Carney was never better. He had won the Oscar a few years earlier (for Paul Mazurky’s Harry and Tonto) and for a while he went from strength to strength. This is his best performance. He has an odd, but strangely compelling chemistry with Lily Tomlin. You don’t know what they are going to say and do next. That air of unpredictability makes the film immensely fun to watch.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
The Late Show is a truly fantastic film. If you enjoy offbeat mysteries you cannot do better than this movie. Beautifully shot on location by Charles Rosher Jr. (Three Women). With Eugene Roche (Foul Play), Joanna Cassidy (Under Fire), and Bill Macy (Walter, TV’s Maude). Color, 93 minutes, Rated R.