Late Show, The (1977)

Late Show, The (1977)

“Back in the ’40s, this town was crawlin’ with dollies like you.”

An aging private eye (Art Carney) whose partner (Howard Duff) has just been killed is hired by a ditzy artist (Lily Tomlin) to find the man who stole her cat; soon he finds himself embroiled in a complex web of murder, infidelity, and blackmail.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Art Carney Films
  • Detectives and Private Eyes
  • Has-Beens
  • Lily Tomlin Films
  • Los Angeles
  • Murder Mystery

Robert Benton’s second directorial feature gave veteran T.V. star Art Carney a plum role as detective Ira Wells, and allowed young Lily Tomlin to revel in her innate wackiness. The entire affair is essentially an homage to P.I. flicks of the ’40s and ’50s, with good use of diverse city locales, a host of dicey characters, and the presence of a MacGuffin (Tomlin’s cat). The primary reason to watch this good-hearted film, however, is for the lead performances by Carney and Tomlin, who are perhaps one of the oddest would-be romantic couples on-screen, and who perfectly represent the culture clash between ’40s old-school demeanor and ’70s New Age wackiness. Unfortunately, Benton’s plot is ultimately too convoluted for its own good, and prevents The Late Show from being essential viewing — but it’s still well worth a look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Art Carney as Ira Wells
  • Lily Tomlin as Margo Sperling
  • Eugene Roche as Birdwell
  • The amusing May-December rapport between Margo and Ira
  • Good use of authentic L.A. locales

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended.


One thought on “Late Show, The (1977)

  1. A once-must, for Carney and Tomlin’s performances, and as a nifty, well-crafted homage flick.

    I hadn’t seen this since it was first released. I recall it being received well at the time, but time has since made it somewhat obscure. I believe it’s available on DVD but it doesn’t seem to be talked about a lot.

    And that’s a shame. It really is a fun little film – and, aside from the shootings involved, it’s really rather charming.

    Produced by Robert Altman, it has the feel of an Altman film in the way it looks and moves. Altman may have sensed kinship in Benton’s quirky screenplay.

    Yes, the plot is complicated – but, in some sense, its particulars are not all that important. (It’s an homage, so we already know what this kind of private dick stuff is all about.) What’s important is the growing relationship between Carney and Tomlin…and that’s satisfying to watch.

    I believe the film is unique enough, in its own way, to merit a must-see. It was certainly wonderful revisiting it; it had the cozy quality of saying hello to an old friend.

Leave a Reply