Most “lost” film noirs are no longer actually lost. Between Internet torrents and streaming services like Netflix, many obscure and previously unavailable films are unavailable no longer. And if you’re having a particularly hard time finding a rare title, you can probably track down a hardcore noir collector who has it and is willing to either sell it to you or trade it in exchange for a copy of some equally difficult-to-find film.
However, some films still remain truly lost. Until earlier this year, if you were to ask a film noir collector for a list of titles that he just couldn’t seem to find, Shed No Tears (1948) would probably be at or near the top of his list. Until this March, the low-budget B Noir had never found its way into the home movie market on any format. Bootleg copies were non-existent, and the film had also apparently never aired on TV. It seemed that Shed No Tears might have been lost forever.
Enter an unlikely hero: Alpha Home Entertainment. The much-maligned peddler of low-quality prints of public domain films somehow managed to track down a 16mm print of this film, and in March, they released it on DVD in a surprisingly watchable transfer. So for fans of obscure noir, does this rare, forgotten film warrant a watch?
Shed No Tears opens with a bang – or more accurately, a fire. Sam Grover (played by Wallace Ford) fakes his own death by setting fire to a rented hotel room and throwing a burning body wearing his watch from the window (don’t worry – it’s just a corpse he somehow obtained from a used car dealer, who in turn got it from a morgue). Why would Sam do such a thing? Well, he’s married to Edna (June Vincent, whom film noir aficionados will recognize from the 1946 noir Black Angel), and Edna has expensive tastes. Sam has a $50,000 life insurance policy with Edna as the named beneficiary, so while he’s holed up on the other side of the country after faking his own death, she’ll identify the corpse as his body, collect the fifty grand, and then they’ll reunite and live happily ever after. Or at least Sam thinks that’s the plan.
The double crosses start nearly as soon as the film does. The train carrying Sam into hiding hasn’t even finished leaving the station when Edna starts snuggling up with Ray (Mark Roberts), her lover on the side, a man who’s much better looking and much more her age. (Sam is twice Edna’s age, which is hammered home when, as he’s looking at a picture of her during his train ride, a woman next to him sees the picture and asks if she’s his daughter. “Granddaughter,” he replies.) Edna’s unhappy with Sam, because, as she explains to Ray, “Sam double-crossed me from the start.” He spent lavishly to get Edna’s attention and acted like he was loaded, but once they tied the knot, Edna found out the terrible truth – Sam spent all his money courting her. By the time they were married, he was flat broke. So she hatched a plan to get the insurance money and pitched it to Sam, all the while knowing she would take the money and run away with Ray – all the way to Mexico.
At just over an hour, Shed No Tears manages to cram in a lot of plot developments. Like the most successful B noirs, it trims the fat in favor of a lean, mean progression of plot points. The film is also aided by some excellent performances. Vincent gives it her all as the conniving, back-stabbing, two-timing femme fatale, and Johnstone White turns in a surprisingly solid performance as Huntington Stewart, the debonair but deceptive private detective who Sam’s son Tom (Dick Hogan) hires in an effort to find out the truth about his father’s death. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Wallace Ford, who gives an uninspired, wooden performance that drags down many of his scenes. He’s the primary reason the third act seems sluggish, as it’s the part of the film that features his character most heavily.
Jean Yarborough, who could accurately be considered both a workhorse and a hack, directed the film, bringing a workmanlike quality to the proceedings. Yarborough, who started out in the shorts division at RKO in the 1930s, eventually hung up a more-or-less permanent shingle on Poverty Row, cranking out cheapie after cheapie for low-rent studios like Monogram, PRC and Progressive Pictures, sometimes directing as many as eight films in a single year. However, by the 1950s, due to his ability to direct quickly and on a budget, he moved into a successful second career as a television director, helming well over one hundred different episodes of various television shows, including fifty-two episodes of The Abbott and Costello Show. It’s not hard to see that he directed Shed No Tears on the cheap, but he still manages to add a bit of flair to the film with some excellent night shots, including the best moment Wallace Ford has in the entire film – the moment when Sam, hidden in Edna’s house and cloaked in darkness, discovers that she is cheating on him with Ray.
Shed No Tears isn’t a classic, but it’s certainly not a failure, either. It has all the elements of a true film noir: dark subject matter, plenty of unexpected twists and turns, and convincingly nefarious performances, especially from Vincent. It’s not going to land on any “Best Noirs of All Time” lists, but it’s still a solid feature that is once again, finally and deservedly, available to enjoy.