Saturday, August 10, 2013

Movie Post: There's Always Tomorrow (1956)

[Note to readers: I'm not turning this into a movie blog, but I do want to write about movies sometimes just to remember what I thought of them and to get warmed up for writing. I'll mark these with "movie post" so that you can skip them if you're not interested.]

Last night, as I was trying to kick a vicious headache, I watched There's Always Tomorrow (1956) with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck. Double Indemnity is one of my favorite movies, straight down the line, but this wasn't that  incarnation of Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck. Here they're neither the screwball comedy couple of Remember the Night (1940) nor the noir couple of Double Indemnity. They're halfway between Double Indemnity and their 1960s alter egos as pipe-smoking dad on My Three Sons and western matriarch on The Big Valley.

 Fun fact: MacMurray had it in his contract for My Three Sons that he could shoot all his scenes--reaction shots, dialogue, everything-- over the course of a couple weeks, MOOC-style, and then leave for the year, letting all the other actors emote to a blank wall when they were supposed to be talking to him in each episode. 
Figure 1. Shopping in style in Double Indemnity. Fun fact: the canned goods were rationed, since it was wartime, and guards made sure that no one took them away from the set after the day's shooting was done.
Figure 2: Classic Sirk, from the window to the reflection to the rain.
Anyway. As you see the camera angles, use of mirrors and screens, and copious amounts of suburban unhappiness, you'd start to think that this is a  Douglas Sirk movie, and you'd be right.  There's even a scene of Stanwyck looking out the window in the rain (as in All That Heaven Allows) and the shadows of the drops coursing down her cheeks like tears.

Clifford Groves (MacMurray) is a toy manufacturer in Los Angeles, married to a thoroughly domestic Joan Bennett. She's entirely wrapped up in their shrill, annoying teenage children and has no lines in the script that don't establish how indifferent she is to anything else, including Cliff.  The oldest, their insufferable son Vinnie, is played by William Reynolds, reprising his portrayal of the insufferable son of Jane Wyman in All That Heaven Allows the previous year and just as determined to put the kibosh on his father's happiness.

Figure 3. Pay attention to the robot. Like Hedda Gabler's gun, it shows up again later.
Norma Miller Vale (Stanwyck), a famous dress designer, comes to town with a trunk full of dresses and a gigantic torch that she's been carrying for Cliff all these years, as evidenced by the photo she carries of him during their relationship in earlier, happier times.  They meet, talk, and go to the theater after his wife won't go. Ignored by his family, Cliff starts to see Norma's charms all over again, since she's the only person who takes an interest in him.

Figure 4. They're happy, so of course it won't last.
When he has a business meeting in Palm Grove, the two meet there by accident. They swim, dance, and enjoy each other's company.  Palm Grove is their green world, although with characteristic Sirkian irony (foreshadowing?) it's actually a desert. They're seen by Vinnie and his friends, and Vinnie gets his righteous armor on to do battle.

Convinced that Something Is Going On, though everything's innocent, Vinnie starts listening in on his father's phone calls, despite the sensible protests of his girlfriend, Ann. "Nothing's going on, but I wouldn't blame him if he did stray," says Ann, to which we all say amen. 

The rest seems predictable: Cliff wants Norma to run away with him; Vinnie and his sister go to see Norma and plead with her not to take their father away; and Norma does the noble thing and gets on the plane for New York.

Figure 5. You can see it in her eyes: why not let them have it? Classic Stanwyck.
But what's not predictable is that before she leaves, Norma lets them have it: about how they ignore their father, taking him for granted so that he looks for affection elsewhere. It's a slightly skewed and far less creepy version of the logic in The Philadelphia Story,  when Tracy Lord's father says he wouldn't have strayed if his daughter had paid more attention to him.

Also not predictable: after Norma tells him that what they feel can't replace his family and bids him goodbye, there's a scene in which Cliff looks out into the industrial hellscape as the robot marches down a long, empty table. That's his mechanical life from now on, and he knows it. The movie continues, with Cliff going back to his family and Mrs. Cliff making small noises about neglecting him, but MacMurray's face looks haunted even as his family surrounds him.

The ending mocks the whole "man's return to the family after a vixen threatens it" plot of so many melodramas.  Sirk often hints at some kind of muted happiness after happiness denied, but the look on MacMurray's face totally negates it. The title says that there's always a tomorrow, but his look says there isn't.


Historiann said...

OMG. I must see this movie! Thanks for the terrific review.

Movies for grownups: what a concept!

Urdu Novels said...
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undine said...

Historiann--thanks! Movies for grownups: I know, right? The robot is not even a hero in this one.