The film begins with that old storytelling standard, Once upon a time in sunny California…and it’s raining outside. Not a minute has gone by and the tone of the picture has already been set with this opening taste of irony. It unravels on a smaller, less grandiose scale than other Sirk pictures but it’s no less potent.
It brings to mind one of the other great masters of such films in Billy Wilder also from Germany and yet you would never get either of their pictures confused because how they go about it so so vastly different. This is, of course, another Double Indemnity (1944) reunion (a film directed by Wilder) bringing Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray back together.
I did some digging and besides the underrated Christmas classic Remember the Night (1940), the memorable screen couple appeared in a minor western called The Moonlighter (1953). This would be their last pairing.
But back to Wilder and Sirk. The way this film looks and the subject matter strikes no exact resemblance to the former’s more caustic work and there’s also the fact that Wilder wrote all his material. While Sirk had often cohesive themes running through his stories, I’m fairly certain he could not claim script credit on any.
The true connection point and the aspect of these two emigre filmmakers that is so crucial to appreciate what they are doing is how they both managed to critique their adopted country through both comedy and drama and they do it in such inventive ways.
Here Fred MacMurray is the owner of a toy shop and a stockroom full of hobby horses and pinafores as they look to roll out their latest pride and joy Rex the Walkie-Talkie Robot. Meanwhile, after a hard day at work, he comes home to ungrateful and preoccupied kids who constantly tie up the phone lines with girlfriends and take up their mother’s time with their numerous extracurriculars.
It’s akin to All That Heaven Allows (1955) in that it places a camera to the mores of Middle-Class America. While that film was about a mother and her children’s reactions to her romantic life, this is a picture about a father and what he does with what he deems to be an unfulfilling life. He has a similar outcome. This is by no means a My Three Sons episode.
He’s feeling that age-old suffocation of suburban life, work, kids, wife, and no satisfaction with any of the things that are supposed to be the pinnacles of the American Dream. What do you do with said disillusionment? You look for an outlet.
Two tickets to the theater just about look as if they’ll be wasted when rather fortuitously an old friend shows up on his doorstep or more correctly an old flame. And on a whim, they make an outing out of it to the theater. Leaving early they end up touring the toy shop and dancing together to “Blue Moon,” a song that conjures up reminiscences and nostalgia and subsequently can be heard in refrain after refrain from that point forward.
The following weekend it happens again when Mr. Groves is looking forward to a weekend getaway with his wife although he must admittedly mix business with pleasure. In the end, his wife stays behind with their histrionic daughter and the work meetings fall through. But coincidentally he runs into Norma again and they have a lovely time talking, horseback riding, and the like.
But the wrinkle we come to expect is a surprise visit by his eldest son who takes a detour from Los Angeles to Palm Beach. It’s so very cringe-worthy and aggravated by the fact that he overhears his father and Ms. Vale talking but proceeds to leave the tourist trap without even a word to his father. He’s too vexed.
Still, MacMurray comes back from the invigorating weekend refreshed and explains everything to everyone all perfectly innocent and this works against our preconceived notions of what might happen.
The film goes further by folding over yet another layer. His son when hearing his explanation far from confirming his faith in his dad, only causes him to sink deeper into distrust. In one sense, it’s absolutely absurd (he quotes An American Tragedy for goodness sakes) and yet it’s a perfect development. Here we have the planting of seeds of resentment and doubt even in things that aren’t the truth.
Stacked upon this is the final irony that it’s the so-called “other woman” who talks MacMurray’s character out of an affair that ironically he slowly evolves into wanting. That’s a new one but also a very honest outcome.
And being the strong individual that she is, Stanwyck not only weathers the difficult conversations with her old beau with dignity but she’s equally strong when it comes to scolding his children for their treatment of him. She is the one who points out the error in their ways. Again, it’s yet another ironic development.
So yes, this is no doubt a weepie; it’s a contrived set-up with a wife who is conveniently busy and children who seem so quick to turn on the man they’ve known all their lives, but putting those preoccupations aside for a moment, what we do have is a beloved pair of stars and a director who made a living off of such fare. If you ask me that’s a quality combination and though it’s a less heralded film, There’s Always Tomorrow is still very much a worthwhile affair.