Monday, September 07, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Till the End of Time (1946)

The best-known film about G.I.'s returning from WWII is doubtless William Wyler's THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946), which won several Oscars, including Best Picture.

A few months before THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES premiered, another film was released dealing with similar subject matter, TILL THE END OF TIME. While THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES is the better film, TILL THE END OF TIME is a very good film on its own terms, and has perhaps been unfairly overlooked through the years, in the shadow of BEST YEARS. TILL THE END OF TIME is a film which deserves to be rediscovered.

TILL THE END OF TIME tells the story of three G.I.'s in the first weeks after their discharge in San Diego. Cliff Harper (Guy Madison), Bill Tabeshaw (Robert Mitchum), and Perry Kincheloe (Bill Williams) each struggles in his own way with the return to civilian life.

Cliff is welcomed home to Los Angeles by loving parents (Ruth Nelson and Tom Tully) who have difficulty adjusting to the idea that their son is no longer the teenage boy he was when he left. It's also hard for Cliff's parents to understand that he's finding it difficult to assimilate immediately into college or a job. Cliff's mother would perhaps like him to take up with the teenage girl next door (Jean Porter), but Cliff has his eye on a troubled, chain-smoking war widow, Pat (Dorothy McGuire.)

Bill has a steel plate in his head; despite that, he is initially a devil-may-care type...until he starts having headaches. And Perry, who came home without his lower legs, feels that his life is already over and can't envision a future. Cliff's would-be girl, Pat, is meanwhile coming to terms with the final realization sinking in that the war is over and her husband is not going to come home.

The supporting cast includes William Gargan, Harry Von Zell, Johnny Sands, and Selena Royle. Future writer-director Blake Edwards has a couple scenes as a sympathetic plant foreman. Edwards acted in just under 30 films; an interesting coincidence is that he also appeared in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES.

The movie is uniformly well acted. My favorite scene had absolutely no dialogue, as Cliff's parents stare at him while he's sleeping, almost unable to believe that their boy is back home in his room.

The G.I. discharge and counseling process is briefly portrayed but quite interesting. The movie also doesn't shy away from addressing additional difficult topics like racism or what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder.

The film is a great time capsule -- it has some wonderful shots of 1940s Los Angeles, and there are small authentic touches such as the USC pennant in Cliff's old bedroom. The title song, adapted from Chopin, adds distinctive atmosphere.

TILL THE END OF LIFE was based on a novel by Niven Busch called THEY DREAM OF HOME. The movie runs 105 minutes and was shot in black and white by Harry Wild.

Lively young Jean Porter was roughly 20 when she filmed TILL THE END OF TIME. In 1948 Porter married the film's director, Edward Dmytryk. Dmytryk was 17 years her senior but they were well matched and were married until his death over half a century later. Classic Images published a good interview with Porter a while back.

TILL THE END OF TIME has been released on VHS. It can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

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