Sunday, September 20, 2020

Tonight's Movie: There's Always Tomorrow (1956) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Today I jumped forward two decades from Friday night's Barbara Stanwyck film, THE WOMAN IN RED (1935), and watched her in THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW (1956).

THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW is one of a pair of Stanwyck marital melodramas directed by Douglas Sirk which were just released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. Also now available is ALL I DESIRE (1953), which will be reviewed here at a future date.  (Update: Here is my review of ALL I DESIRE.)

THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW reunited Stanwyck with Fred MacMurray, her costar in REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940), DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), and THE MOONLIGHTER (1953).  

It also reteamed MacMurray and Joan Bennett for the first time in nearly two decades; they costarred in 13 HOURS BY AIR (1936).

MacMurray plays Cliff Groves, a Southern California toy manufacturer who has been married for two decades to his first love, Marion (Bennett).  

Cliff and Marion have three children: Vinnie (William Reynolds), who has a serious girlfriend named Ann (Pat Crowley) who's around the house much of the time; teenager Ellen (Gigi Perreau); and young would-be ballerina Frankie (Judy Nugent).

One evening Cliff attempts to surprise Marion by taking her out for her birthday, but he forgets that Frankie has a dance recital that night.  Rather than joining his wife and daughter, Cliff stays home alone for the evening, and who should knock on the door but Norma (Stanwyck), a long-ago colleague who had moved to New York and is now in California on business for the first time in years. 

Cliff and Norma spend the evening together, then happen to meet up when they're each alone staying at a desert resort.  They enjoy some platonic time together, but when Vinnie happens to turn up at the resort with some friends, he sees his father with Norma and gets the wrong idea.

Vinnie continues to think something's afoot with Cliff and Norma even after Cliff comes home and tells Marion and the family all about the weekend and spending time with Norma, and he and Marion invite Norma to come to dinner to meet the family.

While Vinnie continues to stew, Cliff increasingly feels as though he's in a rut and rather taken for granted by his family, and Vinnie's rudeness when Norma comes to dinner doesn't help.  Cliff slowly begins to toy with the idea of a new life with Norma...who may reciprocate his feelings.

This was a very interesting film to watch and analyze, though I honestly didn't find most of the characters all that sympathetic.

My attitude is doubtless influenced by being the parent of four (now adult) children, but the movie left me thinking that they made a melodrama out of a molehill.  We were apparently supposed to feel for MacMurray and his "plight" as an unappreciated spouse and father, but he lost me from the start when he didn't bother to plan his wife's birthday in advance.  The idea that he could parachute in and whisk her away for an evening when they have three children and a dance recital to contend with reflected a lack of maturity and consideration on his part.  

And why didn't he bother going to see his child's recital himself?  (Because then he wouldn't have been home alone when Stanwyck knocked on the door, that's why.)  Cliff was as responsible as anyone else in the family for any issues, including lack of communication and not enough parental discipline of his ill-mannered children.  He chose not to cultivate the parent-child relationships, leaving events like recitals to his wife to handle, which may have also had the effect of her being too wrapped up in the children while he wasn't invested enough.  To an extent they were living stereotypical '50s roles, but rather than thinking, "Oh, poor Cliff, he's got it bad with this family," I kept thinking "Oh, grow up already." 

It's interesting that the issue of maturity becomes a theme of the film.  Stanwyck's character seems to recognize this chink in Cliff's armor herself, unsure whether he's feeling love for her or attempting to recapture the freedom of youth.  The maturity theme is repeated with Vinnie and Ann; as Vinnie becomes angrier and angrier, Ann tells Vinnie he needs to grow up, and when he suddenly sees the light in the last five minutes of the movie -- at which point I wanted to yell at Ann to run for the hills -- she jokes he's wearing "long pants" at last.  Unfortunately I don't think someone with Vinnie's temperament is good long-term marriage material, but that's a problem for another (never made) movie.  (Incidentally, Pat Crowley turned 87 on September 17th.)

Some reviewers have dismissed Bennett's character as robotic, emotionally unreachable, or in some sort of near-catatonic state, but I saw her as a woman genuinely happy with her content that she truly wasn't seeing red flags.  She was far too lenient with her children and needed to make more of an effort to connect with her husband, but these flaws made her real and human.  I particularly liked a scene where she recited her busy "to do" list for the following day, sighing at how much she had to accomplish, yet there was also a certain satisfaction as she contemplated all she'd be doing for her family. 

In fact, Marion has some of the most insightful dialogue in the film when she says she feels Norma is very lonely and then expresses pride in her home and family.  Although I think she should have been embarrassed by her children's poor "company manners," on the whole she was right.

Like Jimmy Stewart, MacMurray sometimes had dark undercurrents hiding beneath a pleasant exterior, and although I wasn't much in sympathy with him, it was still interesting to watch his character gradually become aware of his dissatisfaction, dreaming of a more exciting, freer life.  Although Norma clearly had feelings for Cliff, I really liked parts of her "Wake up and smell the coffee" speech near the end and wonder how much he took it to heart.  If he had left Marion and his family, he would have just acquired a whole new set of unhappy problems.

It would be nice to think that both Cliff and Marion ultimately invested more in their relationship and that when their children were out of the nest enjoyed quality time together, but I guess we'll always have to wonder about that...

THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW was filmed in widescreen black and white by Russell Metty.  There are some wonderful visuals including the use of shadows and shots through staircases.  There's also some marvelous '50s home design; I want the side by side double oven with the portholes!

The "Palm Valley Inn" was actually the Apple Valley Inn in Apple Valley, California.  It's a distinctive location which also made appearances in HIGHWAY DRAGNET (1954), starring Joan Bennett and Richard Conte, and FOXFIRE (1955) starring Jeff Chandler and Jane Russell.  Both HIGHWAY DRAGNET and FOXFIRE are also available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW runs 84 minutes.  It was written by Bernard C. Schoenfeld from a story by Ursula Parrott.  The supporting cast includes Jane Darwell and Helen Kleeb.

Extras include the trailer, half a dozen trailers for additional films available from Kino Lorber, and a commentary track by Samm Deighan.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Vienna said...

What interesting observations you make about this film. When you can find much to discuss about a film, even negative things, I feel that the script writers have done well!
I haven’t seen There’s Always Tomorrow in an age but must catch it again if only to see Barbara and Fred reunited.

1:13 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you so much, Vienna! I definitely agree, the mental wheels were turning the entire time I watched the movie. It was fun to analzye.

I read a few more reviews after this posted and was struck that, as with others I've read in the past, they were uniformly "Poor Fred, his wife won't go out with him on our birthday and his kids ignore him." The more I think about it, *he* was thoughtless, *he* was refusing to engage. I don't think I've ever seen a critic who points that out.

I also wasn't a fan of Barbara's "I'll tell you a secret, I've seen this show already" bit. Didn't like her going under false pretenses, it made her seem like she was playing him from the start (which she was).

Best wishes,

9:00 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I like this gentle drama for taking the angle of the husband/father. In my view, the mistakes he made don't invalidate his feelings and it is interesting to watch the reverberations throughout the family.

The ending rather reminds me of Brief Encounter when Fred Jesson seems to understand his wife has been through something life-changing. Marion seems to be saying the same thing.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's a really good point about the ending, Caftan Woman. It gave me the feeling Marion recognized something had happened, despite her seeming somewhat oblivious earlier in the film. I can see the similarity you point out with BRIEF ENCOUNTER.

I also like your point about the film taking the husband and father's point of view, even though he exasperated me. It's true that these sorts of films more often tend to see the story from the woman's angle.

Best wishes,

2:06 PM  
Blogger Tony Wendice said...

Very interesting review, Laura. Rather than disagree with it -- which I do -- let me just say that it's a perfectly valid interpretation of the film. I just see it differently but that's because I choose to look at from a 1950s perspective rather than today's. MacMurray's character is acting like any 1950s father. Why engage the children? That's the wife/mother's responsibility, right? I think when looked at that way it becomes a much different film. Stanwyck is on the prowl and good for her. Most women of that era are portrayed like Joan Bennett so the contrast is interesting. She knows what she wants and she goes after it. Ultimately, she loses because 1950s conventions insisted on it.

I think it's a far more interesting film that people see at first glance which is proved by your very different and equally valid interpretation of the film!

8:48 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment, Tony, I enjoyed your thoughts. I completely agree about it being an interesting film - even though I wasn't a fan of MacMurray's character, I love when a movie like this really gets the "wheels turning" considering various points.

I do suspect the film reflected more of a 1950s viewpoint, though his "skating" on being involved with his children troubled me.

Very much hope others will watch this movie and see where they "land" assessing the movie and the characters.

Best wishes,

4:16 PM  
Blogger Tony Wendice said...

I don't think MacMurray's character is particularly sympathetic but I do think one can identify with the bored suburban husband type of that era. It had to be "soul-crushing" in a way for men like that.

I know from my own childhood in the late 1950s and 1960s that the fathers were never around. Always absent. Working. The mothers would take the kids up to Maine or New Hampshire for the summer and the husbands only came up on weekends or the holidays. Just the way it was (might even be better). I think one's perspective on it all can depend on what one experienced at a child!

11:49 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Love those thoughts, Tony, especially as what you describe is so different from my own upbringing in '60s-'70s middle-class suburban Orange County, CA. :)

Best wishes,

2:12 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older