TOMORROW IS FOREVER tells a somewhat melodramatic but engrossing story, with fine performances by a wonderful cast.
As the film begins, John and Elizabeth MacDonald (Orson Welles, Claudette Colbert) are happily married newlyweds when John is reported dead at the end of World War I. In reality, John has been wounded and disfigured so terribly that he does not want to return to be a burden to Elizabeth. Unknown to John, Elizabeth is expecting their child.
During her pregnancy, a frail Elizabeth is taken in by her sympathetic employer, Larry Hamilton (George Brent), and his family. Love blooms, and with the passage of time Larry and Elizabeth marry and Larry raises Elizabeth's son Drew (Richard Long, in his film debut) as his own.
Flash forward nearly two decades later. An Austrian chemist named Erik Kessler arrives in the U.S. with his adopted daughter Margaret (Natalie Wood). Kessler and Margaret have fled war-torn Europe, and Kessler has secured employment with Larry's company. Underneath his beard and accent, the limping Mr. Kessler looks somewhat like...John MacDonald. And Mr. Kessler is rather stunned when he meets his new employer's wife.
The above is all established very early in the movie. I'll leave off there so viewers can find out for themselves what happens next. It's a complicated story with many interesting angles.
The cast is excellent, with Welles particularly touching; his performance is commanding but subdued. (It must be said, though, that at times his makeup seems too obvious and in danger of coming off.) Colbert and Brent are always effortlessly elegant, and they give warm, affecting performances. Little Natalie Wood is quite good as a war refugee; the scene where she has a flashback and sobs hysterically in German is quite remarkable. She calls to mind Margaret O'Brien's great performance as a British WWII orphan in JOURNEY FOR MARGARET.
The movie was directed by Irving Pichel. The musical score is by Max Steiner. The film runs 105 minutes.
The screenplay was based on a novel by Gwen Bristow. Although I haven't yet read this book, I have very much enjoyed some of Bristow's other books, including JUBILEE TRAIL (filmed with Joan Leslie), CALICO PALACE, and CELIA GARTH.
This movie can be seen on VHS. Vote here for a DVD release of this fine film.
TOMORROW IS FOREVER is frequently shown on TCM, where it next airs on April 13 and May 26, 2008.
An article at the TCM link above has lovely quotes from Richard Long and Natalie Wood about what it was like for them, as newcomers to film, to work with Claudette Colbert. Wood once said that Colbert was "so kind...such a loving woman." Long was quoted, "I was green and awkward, and I know she sensed my hesitancies and doubts. I always felt that in the complicated scenes I had to do with her that she was playing back specially to me, her eyes willing ease and encouragement." As I recounted in a post on THE SECRET HEART, released the same year, June Allyson so admired Colbert and appreciated her support that she asked her to be godmother to her daughter.
A new Colbert biography, CLAUDETTE COLBERT: SHE WALKED IN BEAUTY, is due out next October. Other books available on Colbert include Lawrence J. Quirk's CLAUDETTE COLBERT: AN ILLUSTRATED BIOGRAPHY and William K. Everson's entry on Colbert in the Pyramid Illustrated History of the Movies -- a series which deserves to be brought back into print, updated, and expanded.