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The return to American soil of thousands of soldiers from the devastation of WWII was a major social issue in the 1940s, and it affected Hollywood. It played a tremendous, if abstract, role in the development of film noir, with its alienated heroes trying to find their place in society, but the subject was dealt with even more directly in other films such as Till the End of Time (1946).
In a story similar to that of its more famous cousin, The Best Years of Our Lives (also 1946), Till the End of Time follows three Marines' difficulties in adjusting to a peacetime world. Guy Madison returns home to his parents, who want him to settle down with a job and the girl next door (Jean Porter), but he is more attracted to older war widow Dorothy McGuire. Bill Williams is an ex-boxer who lost both his legs in the war, and Robert Mitchum has plans to buy a ranch that are derailed by a trip to Las Vegas.
The male leads were a trio of young heartthrobs of the time, especially Madison, whose good looks compensated for his acting ability. Director Edward Dmytryk commented on that fact years later, writing, "He was completely without experience, professional or amateur. He simply couldn't act. It didn't seem to bother him any. It was probably just as well. A bad actor was trouble enough. A bad and frightened actor might have made things impossible. I would talk him through a scene, telling him where to look, when to speak, when to walk, when to pause. I felt very Germanic but not very comfortable."
Dorothy McGuire was also a challenge to direct. "If I planned a sitting scene, she wanted to walk," Dmytryk recalled. "If I wanted her to move, she insisted on sitting down. Adopting a risky strategy, I always suggested the opposite of what I really wanted her to do. If she had gone along with me, I would have been up a tree."
Ironically, this was a role that McGuire had lobbied hard to get. She was under contract to David Selznick when she asked him to let her do Till the End of Time at RKO. Selznick thought she was not right for the part but let her do it on one condition - that she do a sequel to Claudia (1943), her film debut and a huge hit. (She had previously refused to do this sequel.) She relented (the sequel was called Claudia and David ) but Selznick turned out to be correct - McGuire really wasn't right for a part which called for her to be somewhat glamorized. She was smart enough to realize this, later recalling, "I asked to do Till the End of Time because she was a character my own age and she was different, even though the part was not a developed one. I fought the hardest for this role and it was my least successful part."
Robert Mitchum's complex performance of inner turmoil masked by outer swagger proved that he was a major, serious actor as well as a star. Dmytryk observed that this quality was true of Mitchum in real life as well. "Mitchum is an unusual man, tough and taciturn on the outside, soft and sentimental on the inside," Dmytryk wrote. He was also greatly impressed by the actor's mimicking skills. "During the San Diego shooting, Mitchum's caricatures and impersonations kept us in stitches, and he was playing to pros. His mastery of all dialects was exceptional - greater even than that of Marlon Brando's."
Till the End of Time was an RKO picture, but it could not have been made without David O. Selznick, who supplied McGuire, Madison, and Mitchum (who was under joint contract to Selznick and RKO). Even producer Dore Schary had just left the Selznick company for RKO. As Dmytryk explained, "Selznick 'owned' some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, but made very few pictures. RKO made the usual major studio's quota of films, but had very few stars. A trade-off was mutually advantageous."
One other contribution that Selznick almost made, but which thankfully fell through, was that of Shirley Temple. Originally cast as the girl next door who pines after Madison, Temple married John Agar and went off on a honeymoon instead. To replace her, Dore Schary suggested Jean Porter from MGM. Dmytryk not only cast her, he fell in love with her. Though he was going through a divorce at the time, it was not yet final, and this was enough for MGM to deny Porter any more work at the studio. They merely lent her out to other studios until her contract was dissolved. In the end, Dmytryk's divorce was finalized, he married Porter, and they were still married when he died 53 years later. As he put it, "what made [the movie] the best year of my life was the presence of Jean Porter - one day to be Jean Porter Dmytryk."
Originally called They Dream of Home, from Niven Busch's novel of the same name, the picture's title was changed well into production when the studio decided to incorporate the Perry Como song "Till the End of Time" into the soundtrack. Based on Chopin's "Polonaise in A Flat Major," the song was a pop hit.
Producer: Dore Schary
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Screenplay: Niven Busch (novel), Allen Rivkin
Cinematography: Harry Wild
Film Editing: Harry Gerstad
Art Direction: Albert S. DAgostino, Jack Okey
Music: Leigh Harline, Buddy Kaye, Ted Mossman
Cast: Dorothy McGuire (Pat Ruscomb), Guy Madison (Cliff Harper), Robert Mitchum (William Tabeshaw), Bill Williams (Perry Kincheloe), Tom Tully (C.W. Harper), William Gargan (Sgt. Gunny Watrous).
BW-106m. Closed captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold