Saturday, April 17, 2021

Stubs - Tomorrow is Forever


Tomorrow is Forever (1946) Starring: Claudette Colbert, Orson Welles, George Brent, Lucille Watson, Richard Long, Natalie Wood. Directed by Irving Pichel. Screenplay by Lenore Coffee. Based on the novel Tomorrow Is Forever by Gwen Bristow (New York, 1943). Produced by David Lewis. Black and White. USA. Run Time: 104 minutes. Drama, Romance, War

Every Saturday night, we sit down to watch a movie that I recorded on the DVR but have not yet watched. Some of these go back several years and I’ve been trying to delete the ones that seem to be on the bubble or those the DVR has labeled as “Last Chance”. Recently, we watch one of the older films on the list, Tomorrow is Forever.

The film is based on the novel, Tomorrow is Forever, written by Gwen Bristow and first published in the May 1944 issue of Ladies Home Journal. Produced by International Pictures and first released through RKO Pictures, the film was made towards the end of World War II and premiered in London on January 18, 1946, a little over four months after its end.

The film actually opens in 1918, at the end of World War I, when everyone at Hamilton Chemical Works in Baltimore is celebrating Armistice Day. One of those employees, Elizabeth MacDonald (Claudette Colbert), is overjoyed to hear the news since her husband has been serving in the Army. She happens to catch the eye of Larry Hamilton (George Brent), the son of the owner. He admires her and thinks that her husband is a lucky man.

Elizabeth MacDonald (Claudette Colbert) reads the telegram about
her husband having been killed in action.

But just before Christmas of 1918, Elizabeth arrives home to find a telegram from the War Department notifying her that her husband is considered killed in action. She recalls the day that her husband John Andrew MacDonald (Orson Welles) announced to her that he was joining the Army to go fight in the war.

In a flashback, John Andrew MacDonald (Orson Welles) tells
Elizabeth that he's volunteered for service.

Later, when she returns to work, she faints. It is revealed that she is pregnant. Larry takes a personal interest in her and takes her back to his house, where he lives with his Aunt Jessica Hamilton (Lucille Watson) so she doesn’t have to be alone as she recovers.

Elizabeth is allowed to recover at her boss's home.

Meanwhile, back in an Austrian hospital, Dr. Ludwig (John Wengraf) works on a patient who has been severely wounded and disfigured and doesn’t want to give his name. The only personal possession he has is a letter from Elizabeth but he won’t reveal who she is. The patient wants to die but Ludwig works to save him.

Dr. Ludwig (John Wengraf) tends to a disfigured and injured John (Orson Welles).

Back in Baltimore, Elizabeth has stayed with Larry so long that she gives birth to John Andrew. Larry doesn’t want her to leave and asks her to marry him. She admits that she is still in love with John but agrees to the proposal.

 Eric Kessler (Orson Welles) and his daughter Margaret (Natalie Wood) come through customs.

Fast forward 20 years and the world is on the verge of the second World War as Nazi troops have gathered on the border with Poland and are threatening to invade. On his way to America is Austrian émigré Eric Kessler (Orson Welles) with his “daughter” Margaret (Natalie Wood). Kessler is a cripple and requires a cane to walk. He has been hired to work at Hamilton Chemical Works.

First stop for Eric and Margaret is the home he used to share with Elizabeth.

First stop for him is the house that John and Elizabeth shared when they were newlyweds. When he goes to work he is immediately given blueprints to review. Larry invites him to come to the house, where his son Drew (Richard Long) is having a party with his friends. His best girl, Cherry Davis (Joyce MacKenzie), is there and is expecting some big announcement from Drew. She tries to talk to Elizabeth about it but they are interrupted when Kessler arrives.

As soon as he sees Elizabeth, it is obvious that he is stunned to see her. However, Elizabeth doesn’t seem to recognize him at all, as his face has been altered through plastic surgery. He's introduced to the Hamilton’s children, the teenaged Brian (Sonny Howe) and their 20-year-old son Drew. Kessler realizes that Drew is actually his son and is captivated by actually speaking with him.

After the Nazis invade Poland, Drew announces that he wants to go with his friend Pudge (Tom Wirick), who wants to go to Canada to join the RAF. Drew doesn’t know that Larry is not his real father but Elizabeth is haunted by the memory of John going off and never returning.

Kessler comes back with Margaret at Hamilton’s invitation and Drew draws him into a conversation about world events. Kessler is obviously impressed by his son’s deep thoughts about the world and sympathetic to his desire to get involved. He does insist that Drew have this discussion with his father, Larry.

Eric relates to the Hamilton family what happened to Margaret's family in Austria.

When Drew brings the subject up again at the luncheon table, Elizabeth explodes with anger and tells Larry, who supports Drew, that because Drew is not his real son, he cannot know the pain she is feeling. Elizabeth then tells John that he is not welcome at her house anymore, but later apologizes when he reveals that Margaret's real parents, Dr. Ludwig and his wife, were brutally murdered by the Nazis. He calls her his daughter so that he could get her out of Austria with him.

Elizabeth starts to reminisce about John after Eric has left.

After he leaves, Elizabeth finds herself reminiscing about her marriage to John and when she realizes that it's their anniversary, she returns to the house they shared. She is lost in her memories and hears John’s voice in her head. When Kessler, who has also been drawn there, speaks, she instinctively calls him darling. She confronts Kessler about his true identity and he denies who he really is.

Later, at work, Kessler goes into Larry’s office to check some plans, even though Larry is in Washington on business. But Drew is there, leaving a letter addressed to Father.

At the train station, Drew (Richard Long) has to tell his friends
that he can't go with them to join the RAF.

When Brian alerts his mother that Drew hasn’t come home, they search his room and find that he has packed his belongings. With Larry out of town, she calls Kessler and asks him to help. Opening the letter, he finds where Drew is and takes a cab to the train station. Drew doesn’t want to go back but since he is still underage, he has no choice.

Elizabeth presses Eric to admit that he's her John.

Arriving back at the Hamilton’s house, it is clear that Kessler is ill. Elizabeth once again presses him to admit his identity. Instead, however, Kessler tells her that she must stop living in the past and face her fears. Moved by his remarks, Elizabeth gives Drew permission to enlist and explains to him that Kessler interfered so that she could send him off herself.

When he returns to his apartment, Kessler collapses while burning a cherished love letter from Elizabeth.

The next day, Elizabeth and Larry go to Kessler's place to tell him about Drew and that’s when they learn he has died. When a tearful Margaret tells Elizabeth that her father had assured her that she would be there if anything happened to him, Elizabeth embraces the child, and takes her home to live with her and Larry.

The film, made on a budget of $1.3 million, would make $3,250,000 in the US, making it a modest success. The box office wasn’t helped when the film was boycotted in Aiken, South Carolina after Welles mistakenly identified the town as the location of Isaac Woodard's blinding in his Orson Welles Commentaries about the brutal attack. The actual location was Batesburg-Leesville, South Carolina.

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times was not impressed with the film, calling it “a straight piece of Hollywood taffy, slightly saline and gooey clear through.” No one escaped criticism. Welles, according to Crowther, presented “a studied display of overacting calculated to disguise an empty script.” Even Natalie Wood doesn’t escape judgement, Crowther referring to her as being “brought in to heighten the pathos in an especially meretricious way” (Meretricious means apparently attractive but having in reality no value or integrity).

I apparently liked the film more than Crowther. There is more than a bit of melodrama here. If John had wanted to hide his identity returning to Baltimore seems like a risky proposition at best. He obviously had some roots there and even though he might think Elizabeth had moved on, there must be others who might remember him. It also doesn’t help that whether he is John or Kessler, Welles is still recognizable to the audience, so it would seem logical that Elizabeth would recognize him, too.

Unlike Crowther, I thought that Welles gave a strong performance, especially given the material. Here he is a hired hand, just an actor, and shows that he could have had a good career as something less than the auteur he wanted to be.

The star of the film is actually Claudette Colbert, a French-born actress, who had been in films since For the Love of Mike (1927), which was directed by Frank Capra. A stage-actress, Colbert managed to successfully make the transition to sound films. Perhaps best known for her pairing with Clark Gable in It Happened One Night (1934), for which she would win the Academy Award as Best Actress, she would also receive nominations for Private Worlds (1935) and Since You Went Away (1944). This is not a performance up to those standards but she’s still good here.

The film would mark the film debut for actor Richard Long, who is perhaps best known for his leading roles in three ABC television series, including The Big Valley, Nanny and the Professor, and Bourbon Street Beat, as well as a series regular on ABC's 77 Sunset Strip during the 1961–1962 season. Long gives a strong performance here and must have impressed Welles, who cast him in his next film The Stranger (1946).

While this was not the film debut of Natalie Wood, this was only the second film appearance for the actress. She gives a very good performance as Margaret, even though she was all of about seven at the time of production. Woods would not only successfully transition from child actress to adult actress but would receive Academy Awards nomination along the way for her role in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) at the age of seventeen. She would also appear in Miracle on 34th Street (1947), The Searchers (1956), Splendor in the Grass (1961), for which she would also receive an Academy Awards nomination, West Side Story (1961), Gypsy (1962, Sex and the Single Girl (1964), Inside Daisy Clover (1964), and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969).

A mix of drama and romance, the film is not without its faults, however, Tomorrow is Forever is still worth watching if you have a chance, even if it isn’t your last chance.

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