It is totally refreshing to see the return of heroes to the cinema screen: David Carradine as the idiosyncratic and individualistic Woody Guthrie in Bound for Glory, Sylvester Stallone as the doggedly determined boxer Rocky, and now Art Carney as the aged but fearless detective in The Late Show. Ira Wells is a sixty-two-year-old gumshoe who's seen better days. Languishing in a slummy rented room in Los Angeles, he is unsuccessfully trying to recapture his youth by writing an autobiography. Ira isn't your typical hero: he's got a bum leg, wears a hearing aid, and suffers from a perforated ulcer.
When a fellow detective and close friend is murdered, Ira vows to find the killer. His search brings him into contact with Margo (Lily Tomlin), a spaced-out gal who is a bargain basement careers (show biz manager, dressmaker, dope peddler). Margo is a perfect foil for Ira: her flightiness and his practicality.
Robert Benton (co-author of Bonnie and Clyde) made his directorial debut with Bad Company in 1972. He's a skilled moviemaker whose major interest is character development. With The Late Show, Benton has taken the Forties detective genre and brought it to the screen in a polished way. Carney and Tomlin are excellent as they play off each other. Also featured are Eugene Roche as a highly successful purveyor of stolen goods, Joanna Cassidy as his wayward wife, and John Considine as his tough and pissy bodyguard. Billy Macy (who plays Maude's husband on TV) puts in a fine performance as a mutual acquaintance of Ira and Margo. He's a desperate man seeking a fix on wealth. The Late Show is a modest movie that delivers more than on would expect. The homegrown self-reliance of Ira Wells seems out of place in the sleazy milieu of Los Angeles. It is a gutsy and endearing quality in a world where everyone is wheeling and dealing in deceit.