Classic Movies · Television

Adventures in Blu-ray: Tomorrow is Forever (1946)


With the end of The Great War (WWI), Baltimore housewife Elizabeth MacDonald (Claudette Colbert) hopes to welcome home her husband of one year, John Andrew MacDonald (Orson Welles).  This reunion will not take place: Elizabeth receives a telegram informing her that John was killed in battle.  Returning to her job at the Hamilton Chemical Works—where she’s employed in their research library—she faints while climbing a flight of stairs, prompting boss Larry Hamilton (George Brent) to send for a doctor…who pronounces Mrs. MacDonald great with child.

Elizabeth MacDonald (Claudette Colbert), about to get some bad news.

Elizabeth delivers a baby boy, whom she names “John Andrew” after his deceased father (though the family will call him “Drew” for short); after Drew’s arrival, Larry proclaims his love for Elizabeth and asks her to marry him.  Here’s the kicker: John Andrew, Sr….isn’t dead.  Gravely injured in battle, he is attended to in a German hospital by a sympathetic doctor (John Wengraf) who’s perplexed as to why MacDonald refuses to give him any personal information that would reveal his identity (all he had on him was a letter from Elizabeth).  MacDonald survives his injuries (though they’ve left him with a severe limp and the use of a cane) but has decided to conceal his former identity by pretending to be an Austrian named “Erich Kessler.”

Natalie Wood and Orson Welles in Tomorrow is Forever (1946)

Twenty years pass, and it’s the eve of the conflict we’ll soon know as World War II.  The Hamiltons have added another son (Sonny Howe) to their clan, but it’s 20-year-old Drew (Richard Long) who’s causing his mother the most worry: he wants to enlist in the R.A.F. so that he can fight in the European conflict, and she’s dead set against it, remembering what happened to his real father.  Speaking of Real Dad, life at Hamilton Manor is about to get even more complicated because in one of those movie-type coincidences, Erich Kessler is headed to Baltimore—accompanied by a young girl named Margaret (Natalie Wood) he claims is his daughter—to work as a chemist at the company…where he’ll eventually confront the woman who believes him to be dead.

Based on a novel by Gwen Bristow that was originally published in the Ladies Home Journal in May of 1944, Tomorrow is Forever (1946) never pretends to be anything more than your standard melodramatic weepie, boasting a far-fetched premise given a little bit of novelty with its wartime setting.  Directed by Irving Pichel (with a screenplay by Lenore Coffee), Forever bears some thematic similarities with a 1932 film, The Man from Yesterday; in that movie Claudette Colbert portrays a woman whose husband (Clive Brook) is also an apparent WWI casualty…and it’s only until after she takes a trip to Switzerland with her new love—a doctor played by Charles Boyer—that she finds Hubby No. 1 still alive and kicking.

Welles and Colbert

Colbert gives Tomorrow is Forever much of its gravitas; she’s wholly believable in her role as a woman whose scarring by the loss of her husband is pivotal to her objection to the fruit of their union’s display of patriotism (America is, of course, not officially in the war right now…but Drew can presciently see the signs that this is a conflict too important for him to just sit on the sidelines).  Colbert’s Elizabeth is initially repulsed by “Kessler,” suspecting that he may have been responsible for her husband’s death on the battlefield…but she slowly starts to put it together that Kessler and MacDonald are one and the same.  Someone has pointed out that Colbert’s character name (before she remarries) is “Elizabeth MacDonald”—the same handle she went by in The Egg and I (1947)…but I also noticed that Drew’s young friend “Pudge” is actually named “Llewyn Davis”—which had me wondering if Joel and Ethan Coen caught Tomorrow and were inspired to use that moniker for the protagonist of 2015’s Inside Llewyn Davis (after all—the “Reilly Diefenbach” guy in Fargo [1996] references two of the generals named in Seven Days in May [1964]).

blurayTo be honest: the explanation for why MacDonald has adopted the guise of Kessler is never really made crystal clear.  I understand the character’s reluctance to return home in his injured state because he fears being a burden to Elizabeth…but I’ve watched this film three times (once a long time ago and the second to write liner notes for ClassicFlix, who released the film to DVD and Blu-ray in December of 2017) and I still don’t get the rationale for MacDonald’s accent other than he’s played by Orson Welles…and Orson is warming up for his role as “Franz Kindler/Charles Rankin” in The Stranger (1946), filmed and released after Tomorrow.  Orson never made any bones about the fact that he did Tomorrow for the money (he’s still pretty good) though I suspect he also agreed to the role to get a foot in the door where helming Stranger was concerned (it was his first directorial effort since the aborted It’s All True in 1943).

Richard Long

I’ve made more than my fair share of jokes about George Brent here on the blog in the past, but I have to admit he’s not too bad here as Claudette’s second husband; there’s also solid support from Lucile Watson as Brent’s Aunt Jessie, and the always dependable Ian Wolfe as Norton, Brent’s right-hand man.  Of interest are the presence of the two young actors in Tomorrow: the movie was Richard Long’s film debut (he also appeared with Welles in The Stranger), a familiar TV face on such series as 77 Sunset Strip, The Big Valley, and Nanny and the ProfessorTomorrow is Forever was also the first credited film for little Natasha Gurdin; Tomorrow director Pichel had used the child star in a bit role in his 1943 effort Happy Land, where he changed her name to Natalie Wood (the Wood was a reference to his director pal Sam Wood).

The Blu-ray presentation of Tomorrow is Forever has been done up right by ClassicFlix; in addition to the film, there’s an image gallery and an audio commentary by film score restorationist Ray Faiola of Chelsea Rialto Studios.  The music score by legendary composer Max Steiner remains one of Tomorrow’s major strengths, and the ClassicFlix Blu-ray features an isolated music track of Steiner’s contribution for your listening enjoyment.

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