October 21, 2019
All-Region French Import;
Stars Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Joan Bennett.
Douglas Sirk’s 1955 entry There’s Always Tomorrow had been previously filmed under the same title in the 1930s, but it couldn’t have offered the same trenchant observations of what at times can be maddeningly rigid suburbia — see also All That Heaven Allows — that distinguish one of the most unjustly overlooked and certainly underrated Hollywood movies of its decade. Other than the fact that it’s in black-and-white during what was mostly Sirk’s color heyday (two more near-masterpieces excepted), any trained eye could correctly guess Tomorrow’s director in a nanosecond — but this said, the movie marches into places that others do not, or at least any movies I can recall.
For one thing, it’s a romantic weeper with a long-suffering protagonist who’s now in middle age, and yet, in this case, we’re talking about a guy. For another, it broaches what is often a very uncomfortable and equally unspoken truth: That children, when you add them to necessary work pressures, are deterrents and maybe even roadblocks to sustaining romance. That’s a tough one from which the picture never flinches.
As ever, Fred MacMurray’s acting style was generally that of a walking arched eyebrow, which is no knock because he could do surprisingly expressive things with it. It could convey misplaced eagerness about to be foiled (Murder, He Says); amused cynicism (The Caine Mutiny); or sinister intentions under a smooth veneer (the two Billy Wilder all-timers, Double Indemnity and The Apartment). In this case, the eyebrow is in recession or even more subtlety employed, conveying a MacMurray character as one sometimes slow to size up a situation before finally understanding better than anyone once it fully registers.
In this case, the actor plays an L.A. toy manufacturer (robots are about to be big) who begins to realize there’s a pattern to the fact that his devoted wife (Joan Bennett) can never spend any private time with him, be it theater outings or getaway weekends at some local paradise on the water. Taken individually, the excuses are legitimate, but again, there is a pattern. The middle-daughter (Gigi Perreau, who’d worked with both MacMurray and Sirk as a child actress) is preoccupied with piano recitals. The younger one (Judy Nugent) is all dance programs, and now she’s sprained her leg. Both require mom’s undivided attention, so maybe it’s a blessing that the oldest child (William Reynolds) needs no outside help to be such a Butch Waxed dunce — albeit one with a head-on-straight squeeze (Pat Crowley, making something of what might been a throwaway role). You knew his type if you were around in the era: A guy who checks to make sure that Crowley will be wearing his Kappa Tau Gamma pin and, one speculates, likely grooming himself as the head of “Pasadena Youth for Nixon” in the 1960 election. Were the character still alive today, he’d probably have just wangled his way into seeing Ed Meese somehow get the Presidential Medal of Freedom a couple weeks ago.
And then, literally at the front door, appears an old work associate and onetime acquaintance (Barbara Stanwyck) who is now a highly successful New York fashion designer getting the lay of the land for a possible expansion to Los Angeles. Fred’s in an apron because everyone else is out doing something (typical), so he asks Stanwyck if she’d like them to take advantage of his unused theater tickets. They do, which leads to subsequent innocent meet-ups that are misinterpreted by pouty Reynolds to be something a lot more, which causes a lot of unspoken tension in the household and then a rude dinner at home that is humiliating for everyone, other than perhaps unflappable Bennett, who can be kind of a “what, me worry?” type. And then, suddenly … it’s all not so innocent.
No matter how aged she got to be, Stanwyck always had it — so on full career-length balance, she’s my favorite actress of all time, though eventually, my heart could not resist being overwhelmed by Audrey Hepburn nor my hormones Grace Kelly. Stanwyck has a great standout scene here that I’ve never forgotten tearing into the two older children; I also think that Sirk gets something out of MacMurray that no one else ever got, even in the finales of Double Indemnity and Pushover, and that’s truly abject pain that rates one or two powerful close-ups. Some think the film’s final 30 seconds or so tack on an upbeat ending as so many ’50s movies did, but I don’t read it that way. However you cut it, the move makes it challenging to look at era suburban sitcoms about perfect families (white, of course) in quite the same way. Growing up, most of my buds fantasized about being the gas man lucking into quickies with either Donna Reed or Shelley Fabares while their husband/father Carl Betz was shaking down kids’ thermometers at the clinic — or son/brother Paul Petersen was out somewhere asking Don Drysdale to show him how to “dust” batters. But we were a frivolous bunch, and this is serious stuff
The Blu-ray here is another from France’s now extended Sirk Universal catalog made available by Elephant Films that’s close to complete (though let’s have Has Anybody Seen My Gal?, please). Given Kino Classics’ current and welcomely promiscuous flood of releases from the ’50s Universal library, maybe Tomorrow will rate a domestic version soon or eventually. But one is never sure, and Tomorrow is such a personal pet of mine that I didn’t even try to score a screener but immediately shelled out my own bucks. And not because Amazon needed the money.