Sunday, July 29, 2012
There’s Always Tomorrow (1956)
There’s Always Tomorrow is one of Douglas Sirk’s lesser-known melodramas but it’s still typical of the 1950s Sirk style.
It was made at Universal in 1956, with Ross Hunter as producer. As such you’d expect it to be in Technicolor but on occasions Sirk reverted to black-and-white and did so very effectively.
Clifford Groves (Fred MacMurray) has everything he ever wanted. He wanted to marry Marion (Joan Bennett) and he married her. He lover her and she loves him. He has a comfortable home and three healthy kids. He runs a successful toy-making business which is clearly something of a labour of love. That’s what he wanted - stability, prosperity, a job he loves, marriage and children.
So why isn’t he happier? It’s not that he’s aware of being overtly unhappy. There just seems to be something missing. He has a feeling of disappointment, of emptiness.
The fact is that Clifford Groves feels under-appreciated. He has devoted his life to being a good husband and a good father but sometimes it’s nice to be told you’re appreciated. It’s not that Clifford’s wife and children don’t love him but he’s become just part of the furniture. He doesn’t feel that he’s central in their lives. He fees that he is being taken for granted.
He plans a special night out for his wife’s birthday but she cancels out on him. So then he plans a romantic weekend getaway for just the two of them and she cancels out again. He’s trying his best and he feels hurt. He’s a nice guy and he’s a very decent man but this is all too typical of his life. No matter how hard he tries he seems to just fade into the background. Which is one reason the decision to shoot the movie in black-and-white was the correct one. Clifford Groves’ life isn’t black; it’s a sort of dull grey.
And then he meets Norma again. Norma (Barbara Stanwyck) helped him to set up his toy business twenty years earlier and they dated for a while. Nothing serious ever came of it but they were fond of each other. Norma has been in New York for the last twenty years and now has a successful fashion designing business. She just happens to be in LA and she looks him up. And suddenly Clifford’s world isn’t so grey any more.
Norma is vibrant and fun. They enjoy being together. They meet up again at a desert resort and they have a wonderful time, doing all the things that Clifford used to enjoy doing but has given up because he has no-one to do these things with. It’s all quite innocent - just two lonely middle-aged people enjoying one another’s company. It’s so innocent that Clifford makes no secret of it. He tell his wife all about Norma. Marion isn’t jealous at all. She even invites Norma over for dinner. And that perhaps is a symptom of where their marriage has gone wrong - Norma is glamorous and exciting and Marion should be jealous but she takes Clifford so much for granted that the idea that he might have an affair doesn’t even occur to her.
Not that he and Norma have any intention of having an affair. He’s not the sort of man who chases other women. But Norma makes him feel alive again and it’s a dangerous situation. If Marion had actually become jealous everything would probably have worked out harmlessly - at least if she’d become jealous Clifford would have known that she was still interested in him and that would probably have been enough to make him realise he wasn’t interested in an affair. Now things are really starting to get dangerous.
Norma’s motivations are a little obscure, which is not a fault with the movie but rather it’s one of its strengths. Norma herself possibly was not aware of the reasons she suddenly decided to look Clifford up after all these years. Or was she? Did she have some vague notion about starting up their relationship again? It’s obvious that twenty years earlier she was a lot more serious about it than Clifford was, and although she was later briefly married it appears that she never quite got Clifford out of her system. It’s not that she had any conscious intention of having an affair with him but again it contributes to the dangerousness of the situation. Her old love for Clifford could very easily be rekindled into a blazing fire. And given the way Clifford feels about being under-appreciated he could easily find himself falling for Norma in a big way.
To complicate matters his son Vinnie spotted them at the resort and has convinced himself that they’re already having a tempestuous love affair. Now Vinnie is making life very difficult.
This is the sort of material that Sirk always handled well. While critics like to talk about Sirk’s irony his sensitivity towards characters who are vulnerable or lonely is sometimes not noticed as much as it should be. Sirk’s 1950s movies were often dismissed at the time as soap operas and while they are unashamed melodramas they’re melodrama approached seriously. His characters might seem like soap opera characters but they feel real pain. Their dramas are real to them.
Sirk is helped considerably in this one by the faultless casting and the extremely fine performances. Fred MacMurray, a very underrated actor, makes Clifford into a very sympathetic character. He’s a character who could easily be made to look merely pathetic but MacMurray gives him dignity which helps to soften the edges of Sirk’s irony (which is certainly present in this movie). Stanwyck plays Norma with intelligent ambiguity. Marion could easily have become a mere unsympathetic uncaring wife stereotype as well but Joan Bennett doesn’t allow that to happen. Just as Stanwyck resists the temptation to make Norma conniving Bennett resists the temptation to make Marion shrewish. Marion has hurt Clifford but she has done so without realising it and without malice. So we’re never quite sure which way Clifford will jump, and we’re never quite sure which way we want him to jump.
This is another Sirk tale of the perfect American life gone wrong, the American dream that has not turned out to be the fairy tale it appears to be on the surface, but the irony is less savage than usual this time around.
This is melodrama but it’s very superior melodrama and the performances anchor it in reality so that we never forget that these are real people who can experience real suffering, even in a perfect suburban home. Highly recommended.
Eureka’s Region 2 DVD is a superb widescreen presentation and the movie looks as stunning as a Sirk movie should look.