Thursday, May 9, 2013

There's Always Tomorrow (1956)

Director: Douglas Sirk                                 Writer: Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Film Score: Heinz Roemheld                        Cinematography: Russell Metty
Starring: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Bennett and Jane Darwell

This is a fascinating reunion of the two stars of Double Indemnity ten years later. Now, they’ve settle into the doldrums of the fifties and the monotony of suburban life. Director Douglas Sirk made some of his best films during and about this period, including All That Heaven Allows and Imitation of Life. It’s not as sexy as noir, but then neither were the fifties. Once you get past the seemingly innocuous nature of the plot, then the acting, the writing, everything about There's Always Tomorrow is incredibly moving. But the best part of the film by far is Pat Crowley and the character she plays. While the rest of the cast is thrown into a panic at the thought of violating the prevailing code of morality, she is the voice of reason and it’s a breath of fresh air.

Fred MacMurray is a suburban husband who designs toys in Los Angeles. He’s married to Joan Bennett, who is completely absorbed by their three children and running the house. She wears crisply starched dresses and pearls and seems completely disinterested in her husband. One night when MacMurray comes home to take Bennett out for her birthday, she has an emergency with the kids and goes out, leaving him alone with theater tickets. Suddenly, who should show up at the door but Barbara Stanwyck, an old friend who used to work in his office years before. On a whim he asks her to go to the show with him, then they reminisce at his office, and before long the bounce is back in MacMurray's step. But when his oldest son, William Reynolds, discovers the rekindled friendship he simply assumes they're having an affair. One of the best lines in the film is delivered by Pat Crowley, Reynolds girlfriend, who doesn't believe it but still tells him flatly, "Who could blame him if he did?"

Douglas Sirk made an art form of these kinds of films which, on the surface, appear to be about nothing: middle age restlessness, fifties malaise. But where other films play it for laughs or go overboard into melodrama, he makes some brilliant observations and the insights into the period seem more relevant than anything you could read about the period. It’s absolutely wonderful to see MacMurray and Stanwyck together again. Of course, MacMurray is beginning to edge into his Disney / My Three Sons period, and Stanwyck is bordering on her Big Valley days. Still, that’s part of Sirk’s magic, taking stars who are a little older and putting them through their paces. And they respond brilliantly. Bennett, who is doing June Cleaver before there was one, is also very good. The younger cast members also avoid cliché and do some great work. You need to know what you’re getting into when exploring Sirk, but if you can embrace it, it is very rewarding work. And in that context, There’s Always Tomorrow is a great film from a great director.

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