The Late Show (1977)

  • In the intro, there’s a signed & framed, black & white photo of Martha Vickers (of THE BIG SLEEP (1946)) fame.
  • After that, a guy named Harry (Howard Duff) shows up at Art Carney (his character’s name is Ira Wells)’s doorstep & bloodily dies. Apparently they used to be detective partners, or something. Ira calls Harry “the best.” It’s sad. (But not too sad, because we know nothing about these characters yet, so we really don’t know whether to give a shit about Harry being dead or alive, or not.) (I mean, you know – just saying.)
  • Lily Tomlin approaches Ira outside of Harry’s funeral to ask for his assistance in finding her cat Winston. He refuses, because he doesn’t want to waste his time on some dumbass, “2-bit case.”

‘But I’ll pay you $25!’ Margo (Tomlin) says.


(Oh wait, no – just kidding. Ha. Ira still won’t do it.)

  • Charlie (one of the few left from “the old days”) (Bill Macy) is wearing hideous coral pants in his first scenes. It’s truly awful.
  • Well, it turns out that Charlie had first set Margo up with Harry on the cat-finding business – so it’s on account of this 2-bit Cat Case that Harry’s dead.

Aha!real gamechanger!

(Predictably, now Ira wants in.)

  • Margo is (or was, at one time) an actress, for Hollywood! Exciting!
  • So…Margo has been selling stolen things (“like washing machines”) on behalf of this guy called Brian Hemphill. Margo, one time, decides to keep some of the money she gets from doing this, to put toward jumpstarting her dress business. In retaliation, Brian Hemphill steals Winston the Cat & demands all of the money that Margo took for herself.
  • “Do you know that people who play with guns are generally impotent?” — Margo

(She says this to discourage Ira from arming himself…but quickly changes her tune when (we assume) Brian Hemphill arrives at Ira’s house & a shootout occurs.)

  • One person is shot by another (on the outside), & then the shooter tries to escape via car…only Ira NAILS HIM like a BADASS, and the flee-er’s car crashes & temporarily becomes a fireball, which forces the escapee out of the vehicle.
  • Woo! We’re only 15 minutes in! This is outstanding!
  • “I’m sorry about all this,” Ira says to his landlady, as she peers out the front door at the dead Brian Hemphill she now has on her lawn.
  • “Where’s my cat, you creep?” Margo says to Dead Brian Hemphill.
  • Yessss. This somehow involves postage-stamp theft! Charlie pulls an album of stamps out of Dead Brian Hemphill’s pocket. Beautiful.
  • Lily Tomlin has her character’s speech patterns down so well.

“See…Brian had this creepy friend – I mean, far be it from me to go around passing judgements on people – but Ray Escobar is truly pittsville.”

She is a master, and this is hilarious.

  • Apparently Harry’s last name was Regan. This allows for the line, “I don’t know any guy named Regan,” spoken by Mr. Birdwell (Eugene Roche) – which of course alludes to the other mysterious Regan of questionable morals: Sean, from THE BIG SLEEP).

(So far, that makes subtle BIG SLEEP reference #2, if you’re keeping track.)

  • Brian Hemphill was an alias! His real name was Earl Hampton. (Info courtesy Birdwell.)
  • “This car is a toilet” is a way to describe a car I’d never have though of – but now I intend to use this on a regular basis. Thanks, Margo!
  • They find Ray Escobar’s address & go to investigate. There, they find Winston the Cat (!!!) and also…a girl hiding in a bloody shower with a gun (???)!
  • What?! The woman is Mrs. “Birdwell. Laura Birdwell.” Fantastic!

(Ray Escobar appears to be dead in the refrigerator, by the way.)

  • Ira begins to question Mrs. Birdwell (Joanna Cassidy), who says she was having an affair, which Ray Escobar knew, & was therefore trying to blackmail her.

Ira: “Your husband didn’t know anything about it?”

Margo: “Does the Pope shit in the woods?”

(Ha! I love it.)

  • While Ira & Margo are tending to Refrigerated Ray Escobar, Mrs. Birdwell flees the scene.
  • Margo just referenced The Thin Man – only she’s not referencing the 1934 version – she’s referencing the TV series with “Phyllis Kirk and Peter Lawford.”

??? In a movie with vintage detective movie ties? Seriously? Phyllis Kirk & Pter Lawford, and not Myrna Loy & William Powell?!

  • Anyway…Margo comes up with this theory that Mrs. Birdwell was having an affair with Whiting, the owner of those postage stamps. (As in – Brian Hemphill/Eric Hampton & Ray Escobar went there to steal the stamps…but instead stumbled upon the fact that Mr. Birdwell’s wife was having an affair with they guy – and figured that racket would get them far more money than the postage stamps would.)
  • This theory seems to be largely accurate – Mrs. Whiting allegedly called Mr. Birdwell and was like, ‘Hey, guess what, our spouses are affairing,’ and so Birdwell decides to “nudge” Whiting – except instead, of the murdering of Mrs. Whiting & the stealing of the stamps occurs.

…Confused yet? ‘Cause I sure am!

  • Aha! Subtle Big Sleep Reference #3. Margo & Ira are eating at a diner, and hanging on the wall, right above their table is…a picture of Humphrey Bogart!
  • Meanwhile, Birdwell & his “flunkie” (Lamar, played by John Considine) seek out Charlie & say he needs to find Escobar’s gun for them, or ELSE.
  • Ooooh. Mrs. Birdwell use the gun in question to kill Mrs. Whiting, or did Escobar + HemphillHampton? Intriguing!
  • Plot development: the gun that everyone’s searching for is in Winston’s carrier!
  • Oh no! Margo finds the gun, & tells Charlie about it, and now he’s brought Birdwell & Flunkie Lamar over to Margo’s. This can’t be good.
  • Lord. This plot is so goddamn complicated. Mrs. Birdwell killed both Mrs. and Mr. Whiting? At different times? Birdwell knew & wanted the gun to blackmail her into staying married to him? Harry caught wind of this & wanted into the blackmail deal…but instead (Mr.) Birdwell killed him? Escobar & HemphillHampton were doing the same thing? Unclear, y’all. This is one very foggy plot.
  • (Mr.) Birdwell, Charlie, & Lamar end up dead in Margo’s apartment, after the Plot Showdown.
  • Closing line:

“Jesus Christ. Would it kill you if once in awhile you wore a goddamn dress?” — Ira, to Margo.

(Ha. I like it.)

  • Art Carney & Lily Tomlin were fantastic in this. They did a lot to establish their characters as fully fleshed-out & memorable ones. The dialogue (both how it was written & delivered) was also great.
  • The music was quite cheesy in parts – but what else do you expect from a ’70s movie? It’s passable, era-wise.
  • Altogether, a solid film. A-, maybe?

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