There’s Always Tomorrow (Douglas Sirk, 1956)

“Love is a very reckless thing”

Billy Wilder has worked with Fred MacMurray on two memorable occasions – in The Apartment and Double Indemnity. Double Indemnity presents Fred MacMurray in the middle of a murder-plot that he slowly finds himself falling deeper and deeper into. The Apartment shows Fred MacMurray in a much more sleazy role – as he cheats on his own wife and family with Shirley Maclaine. Billy Wilder’s choice of MacMurray is due to his likeability – we need to root for the character in Double Indemnity as we know he is a killer from the opening sequence. In The Apartment, he needs to come across as classy-enough to have risen through the ranks in the business, but sleazy enough to use Lemmons apartment. Douglas Sirk clearly chose MacMurray for the same reasons – his likeability and his classy, professional edge. But, like Double Indemnity, There’s Always Tomorrow shows how someone can be corrupted. But unlike the film-noir classic, this is not a batchelor-man at the centre of the story – this is your usual family man. A happy family man who nearly ruins everything …

Innocent Child

Cliff Groves (Fred MacMurray) is a successful toy-shop owner designing a robot toy – but he is unhappy with life. In one instance, he tries to take wife out in evening and everyone turns out to be busy leaving him at home alone. This initial set-up shows the innocence this character has – he is upset at the lack-of-attention he receives at home and his interest in toys amplifies this. It is at this key moment in his life that Norma Vale (Barbara Stanwyk) re-appears. An old flame who appears to stumble into his life due to business, he decides to take her to the theatre instead and slowly, but surely, he falls deeper and deeper in love with her. But this is not a simple love-story as we know that his wife Marion (Joan Bennett) is not a bad woman and it is his restlessness and, ultimately, mid-life crisis which is driving this relationship – not neccessarily true love.
Add to the mix a detective-like subplot as the children Vinnie (William Reynolds) and Ellen (Gigi Perreneu) investigate the affair and you see how the mid-life crisis has direct ramifications on the children and their perspective of their Father.

Before Friends-Reunited

Way back in 2004, The Guardian reported “Divorce Rates Surge as Friends are Reunited” and this film shows how these are the most troubling of relationships – the ones that lurk in the back of the mind, the ones that question “what if…” as you try and forget the relationship. You can imagine, in the fifties, it was even easier to forget and to think that at that mid-life crisis point one of these people re-appear is incredibly disconcerting.

With this in mind, the story can end in so many ways. We do not know if we will be witness to the affair the good-guy Clifford Groves becomes a part of, we do not know whether the children will expose the truth to their Mother and, ultimately, we are always mixed about Stanwyk’s Norma Vale – on the one hand flirtatious and clearly highlighting what could have been, whilst we also see her become very much aware of her actions and regret them.

Home-Wrecker with a Heart

In any three-character dynamic, rarely do we see such heart in the woman who breaks up a marriage. In fact, the irony is how she has so much heart, she ultimately is not comfortable with the reality she created. The script (based on a novel by Ursula Parrott) by Bernard C. Schoenfeld gives Norma the opportunity to be more kind, gentle and considerate that almost the entire ‘happy family’ we see. As she is confronted by the children, she argues that the reason Cliff could even be considering looking elsewhere is because of the lack of love his children and wife show him at home. When Norma shows Cliff’s wife a dress she could wear, Marion responds with some very patronising and condescending remarks about “if she was a batchelorette like [Norma]” then maybe, but alas, she is not – you can see Norma is offended by the remarks, but she does not say a word.

“Love is a very reckless thing. Maybe it isn’t even a good thing. When you’re young and in love, nothing matters except your own satisfaction. The tragic thing about growing older is that you can’t be quite as reckless anymore.”

She is independent and wise. She has learned from her mistakes, though divorced, she explains how you “don’t marry for loneliness”. Ultimately, she is also the one who ‘creates’ the situation in the first place – you could argue that she shouldn’t have even considered going with a married man to the theatre in the very first instance.

Not Your Usual Rom-Com

In the UK, we are seeing multiple posters of Friends with Benefits and all year we have had sex-rom-com’s such as Love & Other Drugs and No Strings Attached, I find it a welcome relief to watch a film that is primarily and fundamentally about relationships – but rather than creating an almost fictional fantasy world (Indeed, I am not Jake Gyllenhaal and I am not Justin Timberlake), we see the real struggles and difficulties of marriage. Amongst the main relationship, there is a sub-plot in the background as we see the youthful relationship between Cliff’s son Vinnie and Ann (Pat Crowley). It is uninteresting and very much uncomplicated and simple – whilst Cliff and Marion have a much more deeper and personal relationship that is steeped in history. This is not a romance really and it is not a comedy … it fits into that category of ‘drama’.  

Douglas Sirk directed All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind – two films which highly interest me now. The idea that, as the credits close, you consider the uncertain and pessimistic future of the married couple and family whilst you feel sorry and sad for the home-wrecker seems impossible. But the direction, writing and actors deliver and this is indeed how you feel. 
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