The Late Show is a 1977 American neo-noir mystery film written and directed by Robert Benton and produced by Robert Altman. It stars Art Carney, Lily Tomlin, Bill Macy, Eugene Roche, and Joanna Cassidy.

The Late Show
DVD cover by Richard Amsel
Directed byRobert Benton
Written byRobert Benton
Story byRodolfo Sonego
Produced byRobert Altman
Scott Bushnell
StarringArt Carney
Lily Tomlin
Bill Macy
Eugene Roche
Joanna Cassidy
CinematographyCharles Rosher Jr.
Edited byPeter Appleton
Lou Lombardo
Music byKenneth Wannberg
Lion's Gate Films
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • February 10, 1977 (1977-02-10) (New York)[1]
Running time
93 minutes
CountryUnited States

A drama with a few comic moments, the story follows an aging detective trying to solve the case of his partner's murder while dealing with a flamboyant new client.

Benton was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1977.[2]

Plot edit

Ira Wells, an aging Los Angeles private detective, is writing his memoir at his boarding house. One night, his ex-partner Harry Regan appears mortally wounded and dies shortly after. At Harry's funeral, Ira is introduced to Margo Sperling by a mutual acquaintance, Charlie Hatter. Margo asks Ira to locate her stolen cat Winston. Later that day, Charlie tells Ira that Harry was on the case to find Margo's cat and was then murdered. Ira visits Margo at her residence; there, she tells that Brian Hemphill had hired her to transport merchandise to Bakersfield for him, but on the last run, she stole the money; in retaliation, Brian kidnapped the cat. Ira says the next time Brian calls, she should set up a meeting.

Margo and Charlie arrive at Ira's house and tell him that Brian is after him. A man shows up outside, and another man shoots him. The man then shoots at the home before fleeing in his car, but Harry carefully hits one of the tires. The car explodes into flames, but the shooter escapes. Back at his house, Ira demands that Charlie hand over whatever he removed from the corpse in the yard. It is a collector's book of postage stamps stolen during a robbery, in which Walter Whiting's wife was murdered. Charlie confesses that Harry had seen the robbery while he was trailing Brian, and he and Harry were planning to split the $15,000 reward.

Margo then tells that Brian and his friend Ray Escobar were making deals with a fence named Ron Birdwell. When Ira visits Birdwell's residence, his bodyguard Lamar violently searches him and takes him to see Birdwell. There, Birdwell tells him that Brian's real name is Earl Hampton. Shortly after, Charlie reveals that Escobar is hiding in Santa Monica and that Birdwell's wife Laura was having an extramarital affair. Ira and Margo drive down to Escobar's residence, where Margo finds her cat but Laura holds Ira at gunpoint. Laura relents, to which she states that Escobar had blackmailed her. Moments later, Margo finds Escobar's body inside a refrigerator, but Laura escapes. Ira and Margo follow a vehicle they believe she escaped in. A car chase ensues through a neighborhood, which ends with the car crashing into another vehicle.

On an adrenaline rush, Margo wants to enter the private detective profession, and theorizes that Laura was having an affair with Mr. Whiting. Ira returns to Birdwell's residence, in which Birdwell reveals that Mrs. Whiting had called him to have the affair stopped. Birdwell then has Whiting threatened but not killed. At an adult theater, Birdwell and Lamar ask Charlie to retrieve Escobar's revolver used in the murder.

Ira and Margo's relationship begin to bond, but when he returns home, he finds Laura there. She reveals that she had given Whiting her gun to protect himself, which Escobar blackmailed her with. Ira and Laura then head over to Whiting's residence where they find him murdered. Laura then reveals the truth. Meanwhile, Charlie, Birdwell, and Lamar arrive at Margo's apartment and ask for the revolver, which Margo has in her possession. Ira phones Margo, concluding Birdwell had murdered Harry, and arrives at her apartment.

There, Ira deduces Laura killed Mrs. Whiting and then called Brian to move the body back to the Whiting house. The stamp robbery was intended to throw the police off the trail. Escobar had the gun, and Lamar killed him. Mr. Whiting wanted to go the police so Laura killed him. Charlie then grabs the revolver and wants to force Birdwell to pay. However, a gunfight ensues, killing Birdwell and Lamar and wounding Charlie. Ira has the police called, but Charlie dies.

Following Charlie's funeral, Ira and Margo wait at a bus stop. Ira's landlady has asked him to leave, to which Ira decides to move in with Margo.

Cast edit

Production edit

Custom built 1954 Oldsmobile-Cadillac for the film on display in the Martin Auto Museum

In early 1976, Robert Benton brought his script to Robert Altman who, after reading it, decided to produce the film. While Benton had co-authored screenplays for several films, he was the sole author for The Late Show, which was also only the second film that Benton directed. Production began in spring of 1976 and wrapped in November.[3] Lou Lombardo, who had a long relationship with Altman and edited several of Altman's films in the 1970s, edited along with Peter Appleton.

Ruth Nelson, playing the landlady Mrs. Schmidt, was a founder of the Group Theatre. It was her first film role since Arch of Triumph in 1948.

Reception edit

Critical reception edit

Pauline Kael wrote: "The Late Show never lets up; the editing is by Lou Lombardo (who has often worked with Robert Altman) and Peter Appleton, and I can't think of a thriller from the forties that is as tight as this, or has such sustained tension...The Late Show is fast and exciting, but it isn't a thriller, exactly. It's a one-of-a-kind movie—a love-hate poem to sleaziness."[4] Variety declared that Benton "has given Carney and Tomlin the freedom to create two extremely sympathetic characters. Both performances are knockout and should draw solid notices for this little-ballyhooed pic. Distrib Warner Bros. may just have a sleeper on its hands."[5] Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film "a funny, tightly constructed, knowledgeable, affectionate rave that all of us can share."[6] Roger Ebert gave the film a four-stating rating in his Chicago Sun-Times review: "And most of all, it's a movie that dares a lot, pulls off most of it, and entertains us without insulting our intelligence."[7] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune also gave the film four out of four stars, calling it "a marvelous comedy" and "an old-style film full of character, a genuine throwback to Hollywood's best efforts."[8] He ranked the film second (behind only Annie Hall) on his year-end list of the best films of 1977.[9]

Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called the film "an artful and affectionate original, lively and enjoyable on its own self-sufficient terms, which catches the spirit and reflects the structure of the previous private eye pleasures."[10] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "a modestly conceived but surprisingly satisfying entertainment, a private-eye melodrama that looks and sounds up-to-date while respecting the traditions and conventions of the genre."[11] Louise Sweet of The Monthly Film Bulletin was negative, calling the film a "wrongheaded attempt at nostalgic recreation" with Tomlin miscast in "a stereotyped role" and Benton directing at "a sluggish, almost geriatric pace."[12]

An appreciation of the film was penned by Doug Krentzlin in 2014, who called the film "a unique, one-of-a-kind film that lived up to its advertising tagline 'The nicest, warmest, funniest, and most touching movie you'll ever see about blackmail, mystery, and murder.'"[13]

The Late Show has a 95% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 40 reviews. The consensus summarizes: "Deft direction from Robert Benton and a perfect pair in Art Carney and Lily Tomlin make The Late Show a solidly savory neo-noir treat."[14]

Awards and nominations edit

The film received many award nominations, several for Benton's screenplay. Carney's performance won him the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor. Tomlin's performance was nominated for the BAFTA Award and the Golden Globe Award, and she won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 27th Berlin International Film Festival.[15] The film was nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Benton's screenplay was nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award (Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen) and for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Benton won the award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay at the Edgar Awards.[16]

Television series edit

The film was the inspiration for the short-lived US television series Eye to Eye (1985).[17][18]

Home video edit

The Late Show was released as a zone 1 DVD in 2004.[19][20] It previously had been released as a VHS tape.[21]

References edit

  1. ^ "The Late Show - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved January 4, 2019.
  2. ^ 1977 Oscars – 50th Annual Academy Awards Oscar Winners and Nominees
  3. ^ Axmaker, Sean (September 24, 2007). "Robert Benton: Character Determines Action". GreenCine. Article based on an interview with Benton.
  4. ^ Kael, Pauline (February 7, 1977). "The Current Cinema: The Late Show". The New Yorker. pp. 109–112.
  5. ^ "Film Reviews: The Late Show". Variety. February 2, 1977. p. 22.
  6. ^ Canby, Vincent (February 11, 1977). "Film: The Gumshoe in Winter". The New York Times. p. C4.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1977). "The Late Show". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved August 2, 2009 – via
  8. ^ Siskel, Gene (April 22, 1977). "Carney works his magical art on us again". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 1 – via  
  9. ^ Siskel, Gene (January 1, 1978). "'Annie Hall' gives a laughing lift to year of space races". Chicago Tribune. Section 6, p. 3.
  10. ^ Champlin, Charles (February 25, 1977). "A Shamus in Shambles". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1 – via  
  11. ^ Arnold, Gary (March 2, 1977). "'The Late Show's' Oddly Winning Pair". The Washington Post. p. B1.
  12. ^ Sweet, Louise (August 1977). "The Late Show". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 44 (523): 168.
  13. ^ Krentzlin, Doug (January 22, 2014). "The Best Movies You've Never Heard Of: "The Late Show" (1977)". World Cinema Paradise.
  14. ^ "The Late Show (1977)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 16, 2023.
  15. ^ "Berlinale 1977: Prize Winners". Retrieved July 25, 2010.
  16. ^ The Late Show (1977) - Awards
  17. ^ Maltin, Leonard, ed. (2003). Leonard Maltin's 2004 Movie & Video Guide. Plume. p. 789. Echoes of Chandler and Hammett resound in Benton's complex but likable script; chemistry between Carney and Tomlin is perfect. Later a short-lived TV series called Eye to Eye (1985).
  18. ^ Eye to Eye at IMDb  
  19. ^ The Late Show (DVD). Warner Home Video. March 30, 2004. ISBN 9780790789743. OCLC 54841548.
  20. ^ Treadway, Bill (May 27, 2004). "The Late Show". DVD Verdict. Retrieved January 16, 2015.
  21. ^ The Late Show (VHS). Warner Home Video. 1991. ISBN 9780790702520. OCLC 23589608.

External links edit