This is my contribution to the Remembering Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon, being organised by Crystal at The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Please do visit and look at the other pieces about one of the all-time greatest film stars.
It’s a black and white film full of shadows, with Barbara Stanwyck as the woman tempting Fred MacMurray to abandon his virtuous life. Another leading noir actress, Joan Bennett, also stars. But Douglas Sirk’s domestic melodrama There’s Always Tomorrow is worlds away from Double Indemnity, and Stanwyck’s character here is no femme fatale – or not consciously so. However, her effect on the life of MacMurray’s character could prove to be nearly as devastating as it was in the earlier film.
I have some problems with attitudes woven into this film, which will become clear during my review, but I still find it compelling, as with all the “emotion pictures” by Sirk that I’ve seen so far. And Stanwyck is just as riveting to watch as always, giving depth to a character whose motivation isn’t always clear. This is the second time she had played an outsider returning home in a Sirk film, after the earlier All I Desire, also in black and white.
It’s also one of four films she and MacMurray made together, all very different. After enjoying Double Indemnity, the great Christmas romantic comedy Remember the Night and this one, I’ve only got The Moonlighter still to go. There’s Always Tomorrow was their last time together, though, and that gives an extra poignancy to the film, since they are cast as a couple reunited after years apart.
Like several of Sirk’s other films, There’s Always Tomorrow is a remake of a 1930s film. The 1934 version starred Frank Morgan and Binnie Barnes, but it seems to be difficult to get hold of and is not on DVD, so I haven’t been able to see it as yet. The story centres on a toyshop boss, Clifford Groves (MacMurray), whose life should be perfect, but somehow isn’t. The distance between the dream and the reality is signalled in the film’s opening, with the words “Once upon a time in sunny California” – which segue into a rainsoaked scene. A woman messenger staggers into Cliff’s store, and stops to admire the toys longingly, commenting on what fun it must be to work there.
However, Cliff doesn’t find his life fun any more. Early in the film he admires a new toy, a walking, talking robot – and later on in the picture, spelling things out rather too clearly, he comments that he feels like a robot himself. “Wind me up, get up, go to work, come home, go to bed…” Cliff has been married for 20 years to Marion (Joan Bennett), and the couple have an apparently perfect home, and three children. But Cliff feels shut out – with many typically Sirkian shots of him standing outside windows while life continues on the other side. There are even windows within the house, dividing him from others in the family. He feels that Marion is too bound up in the children and doesn’t care enough about him, and that he is just seen as a meal ticket – an impression the kids certainly give at times, demanding cash before they head out.
Feeling lonely and misunderstood, he reacts strongly to the return of an old colleague, Norma Vale (Stanwyck), who has always carried a torch for him, and grabs the chance to spend some time with her. When the pair are thrown together by chance at a hotel, he dances, rides horses and sunbathes with her, relaxing and feeling young again – and, inevitably, the couple start to fall in love, although they keep on resisting their feelings and pretending to themselves this is just about friendship. There is a lot of chemistry between MacMurray and Stanwyck, after all their cinema history together, and it’s easy to fall under their spell. But, as the haunting cinematography by Russell Metty shows, the rest of the world is always there. It’s in the shadows, glimpsed in the mirror, or hovering just outside the window.
Stanwyck is poignantly understated as Norma, except in a couple of big emotional moments. In her scenes with MacMurray, the two reminisce about their days together, including outings linked to work, which sound as if they were almost dates… but not quite. She remembers everything that he has forgotten. As the two draw close, the suggestion is that she is giving him all the attention his own wife and family don’t, and that they are pushing him into her arms. It’s nice to see her playing such a warm character in this, with shades of some of her pre-Code roles. Norma couldn’t be more of a contrast with the icy Phyllis in Double Indemnity.
But, great though Stanwyck and MacMurray are, and however well Sirk creates the mood, I just can’t buy a lot of this. Sirk is always brilliant at dissecting perfect families and showing the tensions below the surface, and he certainly does this here – but I do feel the wife and mother gets too much of the criticism. It’s interesting to see a devoted housewife for once in the wrong in a film from this era, while the career woman is more sympathetically portrayed. But why shouldn’t supposedly perfect dad Cliff share the blame for whatever has gone wrong with his family?
I’m afraid I find it impossible to sympathise with him as much as I’m clearly supposed to, as he sulks his way through the early scenes. I also sympathise with Marion far more than most reviewers seem to. For instance, at the start, when it’s her birthday, Cliff plans a surprise dinner and theatre visit. He tries to ring her from work, but can’t get through (his kids are on the line), so, when he gets home, he springs his plans on her. Unfortunately, their daughter, Frankie, who looks about 10, has a big ballet performance planned and her mother has promised to watch – so she can’t go out for dinner, and Cliff is left to eat alone at home, wearing an apron for good measure. (He doesn’t actually have to cook anything, as the housekeeper has done that.)
But, going against the grain of the film, I’d have to ask, what on earth is Marion supposed to do here? Break her daughter’s heart? Also, why doesn’t Cliff know that his daughter has a big dance show, and why can’t he be bothered to go and watch it himself? And, if he is such a devoted husband, why does he wait until the last minute to arrange anything for his wife’s birthday?
Later, when he is planning to whisk Marion away for a weekend, the plans are spoilt again by Frankie falling over and injuring her leg – it turns out to be just a sprain but Marion fears it could be fractured. Again, all the indications are that we’re supposed to think Marion is being completely unreasonable by deciding she can’t go away for a weekend while her daughter is laid up. I’m sorry, but, as any parent knows, plans are always having to be rearranged for this kind of reason – it’s life.There are plenty of films where heartless mothers are castigated for ignoring their children. Here, this one is put in the wrong for loving them too much.
As well as finding Marion sympathetic, I also don’t see the kids as monsters. Sirk specialises in selfish children, as with the appalling specimens in his film previous to this one, All That Heaven Allows. But here the children are younger and I think a level of selfishness is more understandable.
There is a suggestion at one point that Marion is trapped in her life just as much as her husband is in his, as she goes over her dreary list of chores for the next day, but the film doesn’t linger on this. Admittedly, there are also hints that she turns away from her husband sexually, with a couple of scenes showing them in their Production Code twin beds, where she falls asleep as soon as she gets into bed. But this is really just left as a hint.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the marriage, though, it’s impossible not to sympathise with Cliff and Norma as they snatch their brief moments of happiness, and can’t even enjoy those because of worrying about what will come next. At heart, this is another romance like Brief Encounter, where everything seems to be stacked against a couple who find each other too late. Can they really go ahead and break up Cliff’s happy home, or must he go back to being a robot?
Lastly, just to add that I saw this on the Masters of Cinema DVD in region 2, which has great picture quality and includes a featurette about Sirk.