Lured (1947)

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Herein is a slightly off-kilter serial killer, mystery-thriller and early American film in the career of German emigre Douglas Sirk. Of course, the action is actually set in England. It’s a film that builds a paranoid framework like The Lodger (1944), I Wake Up Screaming (1941) or other like-minded films. However, it goes through the normal paces only to lurch forward in the most curious directions.

The parties involved include a Scotland Yard guided by that industrious Brit for a day Charles Coburn. Other people of interest include a street-smart nightclub dancer (Lucille Ball) who saw one of her co-workers go missing after a rendezvous with a mystery man. In fact, a rash of disappearances of young attractive women has overtaken the city.

Thus, upon finding Ms. Carpenter to be a plucky and intelligent young woman the inspector calls upon her services to force their elusive perpetrator out in the open acting as the tantalizing bait. She begins to respond to advertisements in the paper — his calling card — to lure victims into his clutches.

The only problem is figuring out who the man might be because numerous candidates roam the streets and many people circa 1947 placed postings in the paper. It’s common practice. Among people she gets caught up with are a delusional fashion designer who became unstable after years of criticism. The one and only Charles van Druten is played by none other than Boris Karloff in one of the film’s many digressions.

Likewise, Ms. Carpenter answers a call for a position as a maid, though the prospective employer’s intentions prove to be far more insidious involving some dealings in South America and too-good-to-be-true promises of advancement. Once more Scotland Yard puts an end to the criminal activities but is no closer to their murderer.

One of the more prominent people of interest is Robert Fleming (George Sanders) a man of vast influence and a stage producer who finds classical music tepid and most of the upper echelons of the society’s elite even worse. He goes about it all with the playful disdain that can only be attributed to George Sanders at his best.

In fact, his manner is off-putting to Sandra as well but their prickly beginnings cannot completely derail romantic feelings. In those respects, both Ball and Sanders prove to be adequate romantic leads propelled by their wry comedic proclivities. That’s far more rewarding than any romance. The only problem is that he might not be who he claims to be and at any rate, a great deal of circumstantial evidence is piled up against him. A final push for justice must be made.

Lured isn’t an instant classic as the tension while there is never altogether sweltering. But simultaneously the screen is crammed with quality performers and just enough idiosyncratic moments and bits of humor to keep the film from being absolutely conventional. George Zucco is by far the most amusing of the many supporting characters as the crossword puzzle-loving officer H.R. Bartlett who acts as Sandra’s guardian angel while simultaneously coming upon many of his solutions through simple eavesdropping.

This is also a telling film that should make us uncomfortable and it’s not so much that things feel overwhelmingly misogynistic and objectifying of women, it’s the even more sobering fact that things have not changed as much as we would like to believe.

What is the root of most serial killing? Surely we can see familial issues or mental instabilities but oftentimes it’s tied in with a distorted sense of love wrapped up in perverse fantasies hidden from view.

Our killer is obsessed with the poetry of Baudelaire and uses it to realize the fantasies that he never seems able to act out on. The man’s interest is in destroying beauty instead of making love to paraphrase Coburn’s character. When he finally is revealed I’m not sure it’s a surprise but then need we be surprised? Many “normal” men are capable of great evil. They’re simply good at covering it up.

3.5/5 Stars

All I Desire (1953)

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Douglas Sirk films almost by design seem to always revolve around the most uncomfortable thematic ideas that you can think of. Whether that is Sirk’s own wry sense of irony or more so the material that was provided him, there’s always something to be gleaned from what he does.

With every story, there must be a hook that reels us in and an event to establish the premise. Has-been actress and glorified showgirl Naomi Murdoch (Barbara Stanwyck) is sitting in the dressing room after one of her middling shows only to receive a letter from her teenage daughter. It catches her off guard because you see, she left home many years ago abandoning her husband and their three children. She had her reasons certainly but she was hardly expecting this.

But in a moment she decides to get dressed up and make her triumphant return to Riverdale, Wisconsin. What draws her there is the letter from Lily (Lori Nelson) entreating her to see her role on the high school stage. She just can’t resist the opportunity and as advertised she thoroughly enjoys her daughter’s performance. It captivates her beyond words.

Naomi unwittingly makes the play a major attraction in the small town not so much for the content of the production but due to her own attendance. They want to see the beautiful scandal maker returning to the scene of the crime after so many years. Among them is the local shop owner Dutch (Lyle Bettger) who once had a thing for Naomi that’s still steadily burning.

It’s true that she throws her former husband (Richard Carlson) for a shock and her disapproving eldest daughter (Marcia Henderson) still resents their mother for leaving them — rightfully so I might add. And yet Naomi didn’t come back to humiliate them. On the contrary, she’s ready to leave on the midnight train and she’s well aware of the need to make a good impression and consider what others will think around town. She hardly cares and yet she does care for the sake of her family. That’s part of the reason she stayed away for so long. People can be ruthless; it’s true.

Still, Lily in her winning way begs her mother to stay for the festivities and conveniently aids in her missing the outbound train. As the housekeeper Lena (Lotte Stein) puts it, Naomi is a woman with “sense enough to enjoy a party when there’s a party.” And everyone loves her for it, not because she’s a sideshow attraction but a truly genial personality.

First, it’s Joyce’s beau Russ Underwood (Richard Long) who asks her for a dance. Another highlight involves the future Yale boy summing up the courage to ask Ms. Naomi to dance and she takes him up on it without hesitation. Above all, it is her impassioned interpretation of Elizabeth Barret Browning that leaves the whole house mesmerized. It’s true that in only her few hours in town she’s already left a new indelible impression on the younger generations.

The entire town, her former husband, even her daughters and son all must grapple with their feelings toward her now. Henry is slowly realizing he is still in love with her and Joyce still harbors a bit of anger toward her mother when they go out riding with Russ.

But the character of Dutch seemingly transforms into an animal for the sake of creating a repeated scandal which looks like little more than fodder for the plotline. However, that’s not the true scandal or at least the true embarrassment. It replays itself in a different way this time. That cannot destroy someone as resilient as Naomi. She fights against it.

Barbara Stanwyck wins me over in every film I see her in each time anew because when words come off her lips they cease to be dialogue torn from a script but actually develop a life of their own as living breathing emotions coming out of her. She gives every performance an authenticity and charisma that’s forever disarming and the same goes for this picture. If any other actor might be flat or uninteresting there’s little else to do but let her command the scene and enjoy it.

There are so many moments we could note where she draws us in. One that spoke to me is during a tearful goodbye to her son (Billy Gray) who is hurt by what she did and she, in turn, tells him in all sincerity that people do bad things and they hurt people that they never meant to. Continuing to hate only leads to more hurt.

A darker Sirkian ending as he was set to made would have been more realistic but no matter. How can we hate All I Desire? Barbara Stanwyck and Douglas Sirk do wonders with it and they would do it again a few years later with There’s Always Tomorrow (1956).

3.5/5 Stars

Magnificent Obsession (1954)

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This is the type of film that when the inevitable happens and a character mentions the title phrase a swell of angels voices begin to murmur and in one sense Magnificent Obsession is a sentimental even spiritual endeavor wrapped up in a soapy melodramatic morality tale.

But the key is that if you know anything about Douglas Sirk, you easily get a sense that this is not the director getting on his soapbox unabashedly. He is using the very material he is given and finding some of the ironies within it.

The story unfurls rather like a modern age parable. There were two men. One man died — a good man — so that another might live and that other man is Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson) a conceited, frivolous playboy only out for a good time.

The unseen, deceased Dr. Phillips left behind a recently wedded wife Helen (Jane Wyman) who was madly in love with him and a grown daughter Joyce (Barbara Rush) who was equally delighted with her new mother.

All of that was torn away from them by the selfish jerk of a man who unwittingly left Dr. Phillips without a resuscitator because the foolhardy Merrick got in a boating accident.

The film begins the long winding road of a soap opera as Merrick begins to change. First, he wants to buy Mrs. Phillip’s sympathy which he will never acquire that way. But he feels like wherever he goes he is somehow haunted by the sacrificial love and anonymous charity which seemed to dictate Dr. Phillips life. He can’t seem to get away from it. It makes him feel awful.

Of all places, he gleans wisdom from one of Phillip’s closest friends a sagacious artist (Otto Kruger) who imparts him with knowledge on how to pursue a life of true purpose. He’s warned by Randolph in one moment, “This is dangerous stuff, one man who used it went to the cross, died at the age of 33” but Merrick begins to go through a radical transformation — to take on this so-called magnificent obsession. Hudson gets the situation which allows him to exhibit his changing attitudes toward his fellow human beings and ultimately his own change in heart.

Anyways the plot spins and jumps in the most inconceivable and unlikely ways that have no other purpose but to set up the dramatic moments that fail to take heed of how absurd everything seems. It’s laid on slightly thick even for me with a few eye-rolling moments no less. Absolute poppycock if I might be so bold.

Still, there’s no doubting the potential impact of this emotional manipulation. You might suspect a crescendo courtesy of the Little Tramp except in lieu of Chaplin we have Rock Hudson in his first leading role. There’s no comparison but he and Wyman do prove to be a compelling romantic team.

I had never quite thought of it like this but sometimes it’s truly a joy to watch some visionary directors work cinematic magic in spite of the material they’ve been given. Currently, if you make a movie it’s usually on your own volition. Either you wrote it or you signed on knowing full well what you are getting involved with (at least in most cases).

But in Classic Hollywood you have so many more examples of great or at least interesting directors saddled with mediocre material. But the truly great ones took that material and made something fascinating out of it whether it was through mise-en-scene, shot selection, or simple choice of tone.

After seeing the works of Douglas Sirk it’s easy to wager that he was such a filmmaker. Originally from Germany and only transplanted to Hollywood in the 1940s, very late compared to many of his contemporaries, he was a very intellectual man and it bleeds into how he approaches his films.

Sometimes to grasp what he is getting at is an exercise in near extrasensory perception. Because he works in irony but very often it gives the pretense of mere melodrama if taken at face value. And that’s what he did, taking that standard so-called women’s picture of the 1950s and giving it a further dimension that allows it depth even today.

So is Magnificent Obsession a masterpiece? Not necessarily. But should that even matter and what does that subjective label mean anyway? Might we just be happy that there are directors like Douglas Sirk who made enduringly riveting films that we can go back to again and again? The idyllic shots of Lake Tahoe would easily make nostalgic souls yearn for the images found in this film alone.

3.5/5 Stars

Sleep My Love (1948)

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It’s an alarming cold open. Allison Courtland (Claudette Colbert) wakes up on a train to Boston with a gun in her purse and no recollection of how she got there. It drives her into a fit of hysterics that riles up the whole train, though a fellow passenger (Queenie Smith) attempts to steady her nerves. We can’t blame her much since she’s been through quite the ordeal. Still, Courtland spends the entire picture trying to figure out what’s happening as does the audience.

Her concerned husband is played by Don Ameche that suave and charismatic heartthrob. It’s easy to see how he could be absolutely charming in comedy fare (ie. Midnight). Here he’s not so enjoyable. Perhaps in attempting drama, he comes off as too flat. There’s not enough definition there to be compelling. He’s just another handsome face.

Meanwhile, Allison’s evenings are haunted by a specter of a man (George Colouris) who keeps her under psychological duress with broader implications that tie him to a sultry and sulking siren and an entire plot to discredit Allison’s sanity through hypnosis and mind games. If it sounds ludicrous it is but Hollywood was mesmerized by the powers of such forces in the post-war years.

Because you see, she conveniently is the holder of a large inheritance and it seems like a lot of people want a piece of the pie and they’ve gone to great lengths to get it. Hazel Brooks continues in the same mode as Body and Soul (1947) providing the film’s femme fatale, Daphne, sizzling with avarice.

Most people are probably not accustomed to Douglas Sirk and film noir together but this movie proves it to be so, unfolding as an eery paranoia-filled drama that is very much brethren with Hitchcock thrillers like Suspicion (1941) or even Notorious (1946) along with George Cukor’s Gaslight (1944). And some of the broad aspects of psychological conspiracy are akin to I am Julia Ross (1945). However, Sleep My Love does enough to carve out its own unique path even if it’s not as prominent as these earlier titles.

Because Claudette Colbert far from going it alone finds a formidable ally in Bruce Elcott (Robert Cummings), a friend of one of Courtland’s old acquaintances the bubbly Barby (Rita Johnson). Elcott becomes quite the sleuth and a character of tremendous integrity who seems a far better fit for our leading lady than her actual husband. He’s also falling for her.

A high water mark of the film is an extended wedding sequence that is surprisingly fascinating. First off, it’s rather remarkable because it shows a wedding between a Chinese-American couple (Keye Luke and Marya Marco) and it plays it straight and true without any stereotypical sentiment. It feels like a real wedding and an authentic portrayal of this union without the necessity of needless bigotry to sully the moment.

The evening festivities prove equally joyous for our stars who form a quality bond and what feels like it could have been an unfortunate aside becomes one of the film’s most diverting sequences choosing to forego dime a dozen drama for a bit of depth.

In subsequent scenes, Keye Luke, Bruce’s “brother” from his extended time in China becomes his right-hand man as he tries to get to the bottom of Mrs. Courtland’s curious situation that turns perilous very, very quickly. It blows up in the end with a domino effect of dramatic trip wires that set off all sorts of outcomes that came hurtling to their conclusions as quickly as they began. It’s over the top certainly but no less a gripping finale if the film is given leeway in the areas of realism.

If this film is not what we would come to think of in Douglas Sirk there’s no doubt that it feels less dated than most, anthropologically speaking, coming from an intellectual man who seems to carry an open-minded and forward-thinking approach.

Likewise, the intense interest in the human psyche might have matured in the years since, but there’s little doubt that it still holds a prominent place in our modern world with its ceaseless intricacies. One could say psychological complexity is one of the reasons movies still get made today. That and a craving for romance.

3.5/5 Stars

Imitation of Life (1959)

220px-Imitation_of_Life_1959_posterWhen I was watching the film I distinctly remember one instance I threw my head back in the air and just smiled to myself. How I love Douglas Sirk. He gives us something seemingly so superficial and decadent that plays so perfectly into those expectations and simultaneously steamrolls them with a not-so-veiled indictment unfurled on multiple fronts.

This was Douglas Sirk’s final film in his U.S. career. It’s another gorgeously rendered picture. A harsh social satire of the ambitions of an American Dreamer but also the inherent fissures that run through our society to its very roots. These issues have hardly changed with time or if they have changed, it’s simply the same problems given a facelift. The core wounds remain the same.

Imitation of Life is a story that starts in New York, of all places, at the beach. For the first time, Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) crosses paths with the kindly, God-fearing Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore) who looked after Lora’s daughter when she got lost in the crowd of vacationers.

In less than a comfortable position herself, Lora nevertheless offers her home up to Annie and her fair-skinned daughter Sarah Jane who strikes up a fast friendship with Susie while showing early signs of vehemently despising her African-American identity.

Those are the core aspects of the story as the glamorous single mother follows her aspirations to star on Broadway first with commercials and then small parts that lead her to something more. She finds an agent (Robert Alda) and ultimately earns the respect of a noted playwright (Dan O’Herlihy) who soon writes all her roles. The demands on her time mean that a fledgling romance with a photographer  (John Gavin) falls to the wayside and she hardly sees Susie.

Meanwhile, Annie remains a faithful friend by her side who keeps her house in order and looks after the girls as they slowly begin to mature into womanhood. And as they grow into women their own personal crises come to fruition. Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner) continues to try and pass as white while denouncing her mother. It gets so bad that she leaves home and changes her name to perform at dive bars where her mother hopefully won’t follow.

Susie’s (Sandra Dee) problems are of a different nature. She feels so alienated from her mother, the lady so often absent in her life, that she decides to attend college far away in Colorado. When Steve Archer (Gavin) drifts back into Lora’s life things are complicated by Susie’s obvious crush on him.

On both fronts of mother-daughter relationships, the film showcases its many themes playing out in vivid fashion. In fact, Imitation of Life feels all too resonate given the state of affairs in Hollywood and our world right now.

There’s this ongoing temptation to cheapen who you are for the sake of success. In this case, it applies to the theater and the career of Lora Meredith (Turner) but it could be in, let’s say, Hollywood or the corporate sector or any other endeavors. The jobs change but the people do not. Where you are forced to feel awful for not lowering yourself to other people’s level of sleaze and impropriety.

It’s a film about the fame monster and the industry dominated by a patriarchy where you are coaxed into making certain concessions so that people will like you and give you what you want. Just to maintain a career and your ambitions, your familial relationship, in this case, with a daughter is led to the point of deterioration. To this day, money and opulence, nice things and social standing, do not make up for an actual relationship. There’s no contest.

Ironically, only after the good fortune strikes and you have years of success do you begin to realize amidst the rush that the pinnacle has been reached and still something is missing.  That’s Lora’s realization. But just as fervently this can be a film of idealism and dreams. Seeing things the way they are and making them more and more into what you want them to be. Being the change. That’s Annie’s part.

It is also a film about racism — a fixture of society — and a troubling one that is still opening up innumerable wounds in the fabric of our society and they are wounds that must be acknowledged. There is a painful scene that while a girl is being berated and slapped by her alleged boyfriend a playfully jazzy score dances in the background and it’s this disconcerting contradiction — the kind of contradictions that are often easy to pick up on if you’re willing to see them.

People loathe themselves for the color of their skin and the stigma society puts on their personal identity. Someone’s life is driven by shame instead of an unswerving pride in who they were created to be. And whether we like to admit it or not, we’re all part of the problem where being white is seen as being normal or the status quo or what have you.

One of the most striking moments in the film for me is when Annie is recounting the Christmas story to the girls and they ask a very honest question. “Was Jesus White?” or “Was Jesus Black?” Because it seems like a question that devises some way of relating to this historical figure. But it also forces you to see the astronomical error in such ideologies of a  “white savior” or a “white man’s burden.” It simply cannot work. Nor does it work the other way.

Of course, as Annie sees so clearly, neither of these distinctions matter or any type of distinction because this was not a figure concerned with race or wealth or gender or respectability or any of that, at least in the sense that it holds importance to us. For him, as she sees it, it seems to have no negative effect on the relationship you could have with him. It doesn’t seem to matter and yet simultaneously it does immensely. Because it reflects our unique human identity.

Annie reflects those same types of ideals all throughout the film. You might take aim at her for being subservient or have qualms with something she does but it’s hard to question her sincerity or goodness. She has a prodigal daughter but just like the parable her maternal arms are always open and her daughter is never too far away for her to love Sarah Jane unconditionally even unto death.

I must admit it rubbed me the wrong way because Annie felt like yet another iteration of the mammy stereotype. One of Sarah Jane’s colleague even notes, “You had a mammy,” led to believe that the woman was simply an old housekeeper. But that’s the key. Annie Johnson is actually her mother. Aside from adding a searing undercurrent to the scene, it confirms she is not just a sideshow attraction for some southern charm. She is a parent and a friend and a person. In fact, the best scenes in the entire film belong unequivocally to Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner.

The original story the film is based on came out of a very different time in American history during the 1930s. Here it is updated and aware of the changing mores and difficult roads still to traverse thanks to the likes of Thurgood Marshall and his landmark case Brown v. Board in 1954 and the increased rumblings of the Civil Right Movement with the Bus Boycott and other peaceful initiatives spearheaded by Dr. King.

In the film’s closing moments Mahalia Jackson brings down the Lord’s house with her mournful dirge for Annie. And it is a bitter, heartwrenching moment of agony but that is not the final word. Because Annie was a tremendous person with an extravagant capacity for love.

Like Dr. King once orated in vivid Biblical imagery, “[I have gone] up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!” That is the hope. Even in this embittered world of ours there is still something to be longed for.

4.5/5 Stars

Review: Written on the Wind (1956)

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Douglas Sirk’s films are always lovely to look at, almost to the point of making you sick. The panoramas swell with color. They’re too perfect. The sets are gaudy — the cars the same — to the point of almost being unsightly in their over the top artificiality. Try to find any amount of authenticity and you will most likely fail.

The people within the frames are even more glamorous than the rooms they fill and arguably more colorful.  Namely the dashing Rock Hudson, a Sirkian mainstay and then Lauren Bacall, Dorothy Malone, and Robert Stack, all Hollywood talents playing character types with names and dialogue straight out of a trashy romance novella. We wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s exquisite.

Because everything is played with the utmost of seriousness from starting credits to the closing shot and yet it just doesn’t take. Sirk seems to be working against his material and that’s where the enjoyment of this picture really lies. It makes Written on the Wind the zenith of the soap opera tradition.

Like any good melodrama, it begins with a shooting, it ends with a murder inquest and the in between is filled in with drunkenness, romantic interplay, familial strife, impotence, fist fights, childhood dynamics, and anything else you can imagine in such a sleazy affair. Still, when everything has run its course, our leading man and his leading lady are able to drive through the pearly mansion gates off on a perfect life together.

Though Rock Huson and Lauren Bacall are arguably our stars, it is their fairly typical and straightforward roles lay the groundwork for the true show put on by Malone and Stack as the Hadley siblings.

Malone sheds her librarian role in The Big Sleep (1946) for the performance of her career as the uninhibited, diabolical, sex-crazed platinum blonde. And Stack is a far cry from Elliot Ness. He lives like he’s never even heard of prohibition as he lets his characterization go completely off the rails in a fantastic manner.

Their father (Robert Keith) is one of the richest oilmen around and they’ve grown up as brats accustomed to wealth and yet their lives are an utter shambles with flings, booze, and personal demons leaving a wake of tumult that rips through the tabloids.

Mitch Wayne (Hudson) and Lucy Moore (Bacall) meet in a boardroom as nice as you please. You would guess that romance is kindling except that the impetuous Kyle (Stack) inserts himself in the situation trying to win her over with jet flights and a steady stream of charm. Somehow it works and they are wedded soon thereafter. It has all the signs of a trainwreck given Kyle’s track record but miraculously it works for a while. But he’s devastated by some news from his local doctor (Ed Platt) which drives him back into a constant stupor and drunken tirades.

Meanwhile, his sister relishes watching him falter because they’ve never seen eye-to-eye on anything. Her main focus is seducing Mitch their lifelong friend who has never allowed himself to fall prey to her wiles. In retaliation, she looks to search out any man who can show her a decent time. She doesn’t much care who it is. But Mitch is hardly jealous for her, only protective, and his eyes are set on Lucy nee Moore anyways. If the entanglements aren’t clear already they present themselves obviously enough.  It’s gloriously sensationalized nonsense.

Still, so many others owe an undying debt to this film and those like it. Fassbinder came from here as did Todd Haynes. Dallas, Dynasty, or any other 80s soaps found their roots right here too. After all, this is the original version of “Who Shot J.R.” Thus, the debt must be paid to Sirk’s films and people have.

Because his style is very easy to admire. Contemporary audiences undoubtedly ate it up and we do now years later. The artificial interiors and the airbrushed Technicolor palette helps define what many people deem to be 1950s Hollywood. It’s luscious, easy on the eyes, decadent, all those apt superlatives. But if that was all that he had to offer, Sirk wouldn’t be as interesting to a great many people now.

It’s the very fact that he seems highly self-aware and he’s so wonderful at staging and creating this environment, beautifully photographed by his longtime collaborator Russell Metty, that the whole composition tells us something more. It’s rear projections and painted backdrops. Sets and stages that accentuate this piece of drama. It’s all sending us a collective wink to see if we get the joke. Those who do will be greatly rewarded.

4.5/5 Stars

 

There’s Always Tomorrow (1956)

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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.

4/5 Stars