The Late Show (film)

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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 (New York)[1]
Running time
93 minutes
CountryUnited States

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.

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.[2]

Benton was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1977.[3]


A financially strained, aging Los Angeles private detective named Ira Wells isn't a well man and is barely active in the business. He is a loner who doesn't much care for company or small talk. When his ex-partner Harry Regan shows up at Ira's boarding house one night, mortally wounded while on a case, Ira feels it's up to him to get to the bottom of it.

The trail leads Ira to a small-time fence named Birdwell, whose young bodyguard Lamar is only too happy to rough up the old man when Ira pays a call. But they make a mistake in intimidating and underestimating Ira, who ends up paying Lamar back in kind as well as tracking down Birdwell's missing wife.

Meanwhile, a would-be client named Margo Sperling is introduced to Ira by a mutual acquaintance, Charlie Hatter, a tipster. Margo is a quirky individual who acts as an agent for a singer, sells marijuana on the side and wants to hire Ira to find not a murderer but just her missing cat.

As they get to know each other after a rocky start, Ira and Margo hit it off to the point that she offers to become his new partner. But first they need to deal with a dangerous confrontation in Margo's apartment.[4]



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.[5] 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.


Critical reception[edit]

The Late Show got extremely positive reviews when it was initially released in 1977. 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."[6] 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."[7] Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film "a funny, tightly constructed, knowledgeable, affectionate rave that all of us can share."[8] Roger Ebert wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times: "And most of all, it's a movie that dares a lot, pulls off most of it, and entertains us without insulting our intelligence," giving the film a four-star rating.[9] 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."[10] He ranked the film second (behind only Annie Hall) on his year-end list of the best films of 1977.[11] 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."[12] 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."[13] 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."[14]

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.'"[15]

The Late Show has a 95% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 37 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."[16]

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.[17] 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.[18]

Television series[edit]

The film was the inspiration for the short-lived US television series Eye to Eye (1985).[19][20]

Home video[edit]

The Late Show was released as a zone 1 DVD in 2004.[21][22] It previously had been released as a VHS tape.[23]


  1. ^ "The Late Show - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved January 4, 2019.
  2. ^ Canby, Vincent (February 11, 1977). "Film: The Gumshoe in Winter:'The Late Show'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-01-16.
  3. ^ 1977 Oscars – 50th Annual Academy Awards Oscar Winners and Nominees
  4. ^ allmovie ((( The Late Show > Overview )))
  5. ^ Axmaker, Sean (September 24, 2007). "Robert Benton: Character Determines Action". GreenCine. Article based on an interview with Benton.
  6. ^ Kael, Pauline (February 7, 1977). "The Current Cinema: The Late Show". The New Yorker. pp. 109–112. Subscription required for online access.
  7. ^ "Film Reviews: The Late Show". Variety. February 2, 1977. 22.
  8. ^ Canby, Vincent (February 11, 1977). "Film: The Gumshoe in Winter". The New York Times. C4.
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (1977-01-01). "The Late Show Review". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2009-08-02.
  10. ^ Siskel, Gene (April 22, 1977). "Carney works his magical art on us again". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 1.
  11. ^ Siskel, Gene (January 1, 1978). "'Annie Hall' gives a laughing lift to year of space races". Chicago Tribune. Section 6, p. 3.
  12. ^ Champlin, Charles (February 25, 1977). "A Shamus in Shambles". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  13. ^ Arnold, Gary (March 2, 1977). "'The Late Show's' Oddly Winning Pair". The Washington Post. B1.
  14. ^ Sweet, Louise (August 1977). "The Late Show". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 44 (523): 168.
  15. ^ Krentzlin, Doug (January 22, 2014). "The Best Movies You've Never Heard Of: "The Late Show" (1977)". World Cinema Paradise.
  16. ^ "The Late Show (1977)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2023-08-16.
  17. ^ "Berlinale 1977: Prize Winners". Retrieved 2010-07-25.
  18. ^ The Late Show (1977) - Awards
  19. ^ 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).
  20. ^ Eye to Eye at IMDb
  21. ^ The Late Show (DVD). Warner Home Video. March 30, 2004. ISBN 9780790789743. OCLC 54841548.
  22. ^ Treadway, Bill (May 27, 2004). "The Late Show". DVD Verdict. Retrieved 2015-01-16.
  23. ^ The Late Show (VHS). Warner Home Video. 1991. ISBN 9780790702520. OCLC 23589608.

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