Home Video Reviews
Sirk was genuinely masterful at exploring the dark currents flowing underneath seemingly tranquil 1950s domesticity, and as such he is one of the most important directors of American film during that decade. He captured real and disturbing truths of American society, conformity, and family life, and he did so by using an accumulated expertise of filmmaking. The German-born craftsman had directed more than 35 pictures by 1956, in Germany and Hollywood (he arrived there in 1941), and his eye for sets, décor, camera movement, lighting and editing are perfectly in tune to the larger ideas and themes he is attempting to impart. As a result, a film like There's Always Tomorrow becomes not just a fascinating time capsule thematically but a marvel of filmmaking technique that can and should still be studied by filmmakers today.
There's Always Tomorrow also gives us a chance to experience Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray together again, a pleasure in itself. The pair had already co-starred in three other, very different films: the romance Remember the Night (1940), the film noir Double Indemnity (1944), and the 3-D western The Moonlighter (1953). Their well-oiled professionalism and obvious ease together have a lot to do with making There's Always Tomorrow so profoundly affecting and believable.
The breathtaking first 30 minutes of the picture depict MacMurray living an apparently comfortable life, with a wife, two kids, and a job running a successful toy-manufacturing company. The nice house, comfortable middle-class existence and attractive family lend a sense of security, but practically right off the bat Sirk also reveals it all to be a source of loneliness and anxiety. For instance, MacMurray's office is dark, dreary, static -- with none of the brightness or color one would expect at a toy company. His wife (Joan Bennett) doesn't pay him much attention anymore, instead taking him for granted and getting caught up in the unimportant minutiae of daily existence. MacMurray's life, at best, is routine and dull; at worst, it's a chilling, soulless prison hidden by a façade of social respectability and suburban comfort.
Into this world comes Barbara Stanwyck, a woman who used to work for MacMurray and was romantically involved with him. She is now a divorced fashion designer from New York. MacMurray's joy in seeing her again leads to a pleasing reconnection, and eventually old passions flare up and MacMurray starts thinking about trading in his current life for a new chance with Stanwyck. But the kids figure out something is going on, and melodramatics ensue.
Interestingly, however, the story does not turn into the kind of predictable triangle one might expect. The emphasis is not on the wife, Bennett, finding out what's going on and then confronting her husband and so forth; rather, it's squarely on MacMurray's despair and unhappiness. His Clifford Groves is cursed with self-awareness. If only he could be like millions of other suffering husbands who don't know they are suffering, he might be able to fool himself into feeling happy, the film seems to suggest. But he senses his emotional and psychological entrapment, and when Stanwyck reenters his life, he feels it even more because he can now glimpse a possible escape. The brief joy he feels with her becomes something vital, something strongly worth fighting for. The real ending of the film -- which can be seen just before the tacked-on epilogue forced upon Sirk by the studio -- is one of the bleakest and most chilling in 1950s American cinema. The film is Sirk's darkest in terms of lighting and overall look; it may well also be the darkest in terms of its themes.
In many ways There's Always Tomorrow is really a horror film. Marriage and domestic life are certainly treated as horror, and Sirk fills the movie with images of entrapment, furthering the idea of MacMurray being enclosed in a gilded cage. MacMurray's daughter, played by Gigi Perreau, has it right when she exclaims, "I'm never getting married!" Watching this film, who would want to? The kids, by the way, do a very good job especially when they confront Stanwyck, who delivers an amazing bit of acting in that scene herself, changing emotions with seemingly the greatest of ease.
The only flaw with Universal's disc of the film is that it is presented in a full-frame 1.33 aspect ratio rather than the 1.85 ratio in which it was composed. This indeed slightly distorts Sirk's intended compositions, but the film is still watchable; at least it's not as if an anamorphic film has been panned and scanned. Why Universal didn't present it in 1.85 is a puzzler, since apparently the film's European DVD was issued in the correct format. In any case, until a new version is released here, this one will suffice.
Also in The Barbara Stanwyck Collection is Internes Can't Take Money (1937), an excellent melodrama co-starring Joel McCrea as the screen's first Dr. Kildare (though it's not connected to the Kildare series that later followed), as well as an excellent Stanley Ridges as a weaselly gangster and Lloyd Nolan as a good-hearted one. This is a film of real style and 1930s texture and is highly recommended.
The Great Man's Lady (1942) again co-stars McCrea. He and Stanwyck are extremely appealing together and it's no surprise they teamed up six times on the big screen. Stanwyck puts her all into every scene here as she plays a 100-year-old woman reflecting on her life, which we see in flashback. It's an episodic, well-crafted western and piece of Americana that moves right along with more the feel of a Warner Bros. than a Paramount film.
Rounding out the collection are The Bride Wore Boots (1946), an inconsequential comedy co-starring Robert Cummings, The Lady Gambles (1948) with Robert Preston, and the aforementioned Douglas Sirk drama All I Desire.
It's wonderful that Universal is putting these kinds of rare Paramount productions out on DVD in the current climate of lean catalogue releases from any studio. Despite the aspect ratio problem on There's Always Tomorrow, The Barbara Stanwyck Collection doesn't disappoint.
For more information about There's Always Tomorrow, visit Universal Home Entertainment. To order There's Always Tomorrow (It is only available as part of The Barbara Stanwyck Collection), go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold