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Next Time We Love

Next Time We Love(1936)

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Margaret Sullavan gets top billing in Next Time We Love (1936), but James Stewart gets his first full-fledged leading role, making this otherwise fair picture of special interest. It's now out on DVD from Universal Home Entertainment as part of their James Stewart: Screen Legend Collection.

The story, a romantic melodrama based on a novel called Say Goodbye Again, has Stewart and Sullavan young and in love in New York City. He's a beginning newspaper reporter and she's on her way off to college. At the last possible moment, however, she decides to stay in New York and make a go of marriage with him. Through some connections of Stewart's actor buddy Ray Milland (billed as "Raymond Milland"), Sullavan falls into an acting career, and, as happens in these kinds of movies, quickly becomes a top Broadway star. Priorities clash when Stewart gets a plum foreign correspondent gig in Rome and expects his wife to join him, but Sullavan wants to stay and keep up her acting. As their careers veer off in different directions, the story takes a curious shift where we spend much more time with Sullavan in New York as Stewart works abroad, coming home every few months or so. Each time, it is harder for them to rekindle their romance and keep their love from disintegrating completely - even with the presence now of a baby.

It's not terribly convincing, partly because the film never really lets us feel the intensity of their love to begin with and partly because of overly melodramatic plot twists, but it is interesting to see Stewart developing his acting chops and to see the two stars together for the first of four films. They are good together, and would be even better in The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and The Mortal Storm (1940). Those, of course, are masterpieces from two of Hollywood's best-ever directors (Ernst Lubitsch and Frank Borzage), but just as important is Stewart's increased experience in front of the camera. He's simply much more at ease in those later films.

In Next Time We Love, he's OK, even charming, in some scenes, and a bit stiff in others, which tend to be underwritten to begin with. Sullavan, meanwhile, handles those underwritten scenes just fine, saving them with the sheer force of her talent, something which Stewart would yet learn to do. It's quite fascinating to watch the difference on screen.

Stewart's best scene takes place in a Geneva cafe with the crusty, cold managing editor (Robert McWade) of his paper. They have a heart-to-heart with some very good dialogue: "At my age, I've seen love so seldom that when I do, I like to stop and warm my hands before it," says McWade. Stewart's reactions - his listening - are perfectly understated and effective here.

It's likely that this cafe scene was shot well after Sullavan started giving Stewart some private acting lessons; in fact, she deserved a lot of credit for Stewart becoming widely recognized in Hollywood to begin with. The two had known each other from their New York theater days. A few years after Sullavan moved to Hollywood and became a big star, she was being driven along Hollywood Blvd. when she noticed Stewart "walking along by himself, hands in his pocket, head down" (according to Stewart biographer Marc Eliot). She picked him up and they reconnected their friendship. Stewart had been in town a short time and was under contract to MGM, which had given him small roles in two features: The Murder Man (1935) and Rosa-Marie (1936). Clearly Louis B. Mayer had no idea what to do with the gangly actor. Sullavan, on the other hand, had always felt Stewart would become a major star and now she was in a position to help make that happen. She told Universal that she would only do Next Time We Love if they hired him to play opposite her. They'd never heard of him, but ultimately she got her way.

Stewart's inexperience came through in the rushes and made the Universal brass nervous, but Sullavan took him under her wing and gave him screen acting lessons at night, explaining how body movements and voice projection were different for movie work. Rumors floated around that Sullavan (who was married to director William Wyler) and Stewart were having an affair, but Sullavan's interest seems to have been more maternal and protective. Stewart had always had a crush on the actress and undoubtedly would have liked the rumors to be true. He later said, "I'll never marry until I find a girl like Margaret Sullavan."

The other movies in this DVD collection are a strange mix indeed: the toe-tapping The Glenn Miller Story (1953), the rip-roaring Thunder Bay (1953) (both from director Anthony Mann), the minor, mid-career You Gotta Stay Happy (1948), and the minor, late-career Shenandoah (1965). The Glenn Miller Story and Shenandoah were previously issued on DVD in 2003; the others are first-time releases. Picture and sound quality of Next Time We Love are perfectly fine, though this is not a restored, unblemished print. There are no extras in this modestly-priced collection except for some trailers.

A final note: Preston Sturges worked uncredited on this screenplay, though the film doesn't really bear any of his personality.

For more information about Next Time We Love, visit Universal Home Entertainment. To order Next Time We Love (available as part of James Stewart: Screen Legends Collection only), go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeremy Arnold