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 doorstep mortally wounded, Ira feels compelled to solve his friend’s death. Meanwhile, a part-time drug dealer, Margo Sperling (Lily Tomlin, Nashville), hires Ira to find her missing cat.
Reaction & Thoughts:
We felt very nostalgic in the 1970s. This might explain why the most popular films of the era — American Graffiti, The Godfather, The Sting, Paper Moon, etc. — took place in the past. Heck, even Star Wars was a throwback to the serials of the 1930s. 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.
Written and directed by Robert Benton (Places in the Heart), The Late Show is one of my favorite ’70s films. I like everything about the film: the colorful characters, the sly humor, the weird situations, etc. Even the murder-mystery is pretty good. I’ve seen it multiple times and I think it gets better with each viewing!
The film was produced by Robert Altman (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. Benton proves here 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.
Former funny-man Art Carney was never better. He had won the Oscar a few years earlier (for Paul Mazurky’s 1974 drama Harry and Tonto) and for a while he went from strength to strength — this is perhaps his best performance.
Carney has an odd but strangely compelling chemistry with Lily Tomlin, who is hilarious as a small-time crook — it’s one of Tomlin’s best performances! The interactions between Carney and Tomlin are priceless. You don’t know what they are going to say and do next. The air of unpredictability makes the film immensely fun to watch.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
The Late Show is a truly fantastic film — it’s both amusing and surprising in the right places. 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 (Balde Runner and Under Fire) and Bill Macy (Walter, TV’s Maude). Color, 93 minutes, Rated R.