Thursday, June 28, 2018

When Tomorrow Comes

When Tomorrow Comes (1939) with Irene Dunne as Helen Lawrence, Charles Boyer as Philip Chagal and Nella Walker as Betty Dumont, the mother of Madeleine.

Huomispäivä on meidän... / Morgondagen är vår / Vigilia d’amore
    Director: John M. Stahl. Year: 1939. Country: USA.
    Sog.: dal racconto A Modern Cinderella di James M. Cain. Scen.: Dwight Taylor. F.: John J. Mescall. M.: Milton Carruth. Scgf.: Jack Otterson. Mus.: Frank Skinner (non accreditato). Int.: Irene Dunne (Helen Lawrence), Charles Boyer (Philip Chagal), Barbara O’Neil (Madeleine Chagal), Onslow Stevens (Jim Holden), Nydia Westman (Lulu), Nella Walker (Betty Dumont), Fritz Feld (Nicholas). Prod.: Universal Pictures. 35 mm. D.: 90’. Bn.
    "Solidarity Forever", to the folk song tune of "John Brown's Body" / "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (collected by William Steffe, 1856), lyrics by Ralph Chaplin (1915).
    J. S. Bach: Sonaten und Partiten für Violine solo: Partita II d-Moll, BWV 1004: Ciaccona (Chaconne) 3/4 d-Moll. Piano transcription played by Philip Chagal.
    Franz Schubert: "Ständchen" ("Leise flehen meine Lieder") ("Serenade"), lyrics by Ludwig Rellstab, from Schwanengesang, D 957, played by Philip Chagal and sung by Helen Lawrence in English.
    Print from Universal. A Comcast company.
    Viewed at Cinema Jolly, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Immortal Imitations: The Cinema of John M. Stahl, 28 June 2018

Charles Barr (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "Thematically, we can see this as the final film in an unofficial 1930s trilogy directed by John M. Stahl for Universal. Back Street (1932) and Only Yesterday (1933) traced a devoted woman’s bitter-sweet love affair with a married man over many frustrating years. When Tomorrow Comes concentrates a similar story into a three-day span: Charles Boyer’s pianist is less selfish than the bankers played by John Boles in the earlier films, but his sudden passionate romance with Irene Dunne’s waitress is blocked by the fact of his marriage to an unstable woman whom he cannot abandon. Dunne’s roles for Stahl in effect constitute a second trilogy: she was the mistress in Back Street, and then the long-suffering heroine of Magnificent Obsession (1935), widowed, blinded in a car accident, but slowly finding a new happiness. Her role in this third film confirms both her status as one of Hollywood’s great actresses, and Stahl’s intense empathy with women and their aspirations. And in retrospect we can identify a third trilogy: this is the third of Stahl’s films that would be remade in the 1950s, also for Universal, by Douglas Sirk. In contrast to the debates over the Stahl and Sirk versions of Magnificent Obsession and Imitation of Life, no-one surely could dispute the superiority of When Tomorrow Comes over Sirk’s loose 1957 remake, Interlude. The romantic narrative of Stahl’s film is rooted in its historical moment: the spectacular storm and flood scenes are based on 1938 events in New York, while Boyer’s sad departure for Europe at the end gains extra poignancy from the date of the film’s release in August 1939." Charles Barr

AA: I agree with Charles Barr about the superiority of John M. Stahl's When Tomorrow Comes to Douglas Sirk's remake called Interlude. We recently screened Interlude which I liked very much, but it does not belong to Sirk's greatest films, maybe also because of the casting. Sirk did not manage to elicit great performances from June Allyson and Rossano Brazzi.

An important difference in the triangle story is that in the Stahl version we learn that the musician's wife has become mentally unbalanced after the loss of her baby. The musician and his mother-in-law are committed to take the best possible care of her. The mother-in-law is explicitly in Interlude and implicitly in When Tomorrow Comes welcoming the new woman into the triangle, but the musician's wife will never accept this.

A big surprise in the Stahl version is that he takes the social angle of James M. Cain's story seriously while Sirk abandons it. Helen Lawrence (Irene Dunne) is not only a trade union activist; in the union meeting she is the one who gives the decisive speech which convinces everybody of the necessity of the strike which ends victoriously during the span of the film. And this is not the only instance of social consciousness in the film which registers memorably the poverty and the homelessness in Depression era New York. Remembering the gravity of the racial issue in Imitation of Life we must recognize in Stahl a director of high social awareness.

A further difference to Sirk is that Stahl, following Cain, portrays Helen as a woman who has not been able to develop her musical talent. Philip Chagal (Charles Boyer) recognizes her talent as soon as she sings Schubert's "Serenade" to his piano recital. In music, and in love, they belong together, but in a class society they are on opposite sides, although the divide is not unbridgeable. Philip sincerely admires Helen's action in the union meeting.

The main musical theme is J. S. Bach's "Chaconne" from his second partita in D minor, played by Philip as a piano arrangement (by Ferruccio Busoni perhaps) during the thunderstorm. This may be melodrama in the literal sense, but in a very unusual way. I am not a music connoisseur and unable to evaluate the quality of the performance, but I find this rough and blunt interpretation very moving. It conveys Philip's stoical attitude in facing both his tragic family situation and the acute danger of the thunderstorm which is escalating into a hurricane. The Bach theme is repeated in the finale. The orchestra is playing it in the restaurant where Philip says to Helen: "I'll be back" and Helen answers: "I'll be waiting".

When Tomorrow Comes belongs to the great films of the cinema's greatest year 1939. The apocalyptic hurricane scene, the implications of Noah's Flood, the potentially final night of the lovers in the abandoned church, and the powerful echo of the chaconne, one of the greatest artworks of mankind, all seem to resonate with the events of the fateful year. The Hitler menace was also personal for Stahl, born as Jacob Strelitsky in Baku, to become a major Nazi target in Operation Edelweiss.

In the trade union world Helen is a fighter. In love life she faces the destiny of the Back Street.

Another of my three greatest discoveries at Il Cinema Ritrovato. This film has been generally misunderstood and misrepresented. It can be labelled as a genre film, but Stahl transcends genre limitations as profoundly as Sirk, although their interpretations are different.

A brilliant print from Universal Studios.



The working titles of this picture were A Modern Cinderella and Give Us the Night , and it was based on the unpublished James M. Cain story "A Modern Cinderella." According to the Call Bureau Cast Service, Charles Boyer's character was originally named Charles and Madame Durand's Mrs. Dumont. News items in HR note that at least twenty-one writers worked on the script. Among them were Aben Kandel, Charles Kaufman and John F. Larkin. The script was incomplete when production began. The film won an Academy Award for Best Sound Recording. In 1957, Douglas Sirk directed June Allyson and Rossano Brazzi in Interlude , another Universal version of the James M. Cain story, and in 1968, Kevin Billington directed Oskar Werner and Barbara Ferris in Interlude , a British version of the story.


Philip Andre Chagal, a famous French concert pianist, is completing an American tour when he stops at a downtown cafe for lunch. His arrival creates a mild sensation at the restaurant because the waitresses, who are about to hold a secret union meeting, believe him to be a company spy. One of them, Helen, tries to trap Philip into admitting he is a spy and, impressed by her charm, he decides to attend the meeting. At the meeting, Helen delivers a fiery speech and Philip is enchanted by her dynamism. Also impressed is Holden, a union leader who is in love with Helen. After the meeting, Philip and Helen take a walk together, and Philip tells Helen that he has not worked for weeks, leading her to conclude that he is unemployed. Philip asks her to spend the following day with him, and learning that he has only seventy-two hours before he has to leave for France, Helen consents. On a borrowed sailboat, they cruise Long Island Sound until a sudden squall sends them to the shelter of a small wharf and Philip's country home. There, Helen finally learns her companion is a great concert pianist. As the strength of the storm increases, so does Philip's ardor, and Helen asks him to take her home. On the drive back, they are caught in a savage hurricane that forces them to take shelter in a church. Believing that they will not live through the night, Helen confesses her love for Philip who tries to tell her something, but she refuses to listen. In the morning, they are rescued and taken to a camp where Helen learns that Philip is married, and that his wife is waiting for him at the camp. Trying to run away, Helen boards the nearest bus and is trapped in traffic and offered a ride by Philip, who is driving with his wife Madeleine and his mother-in-law. In the car, Helen discovers that Madeleine has become deranged because of the loss of a child several years earlier. Sensing Philip's love for Helen, Madeleine goes to her and declares that she will never let Philip go. Playing on Helen's sympathy, Madeleine wins her promise never to see Phillip again. The night that Philip is to sail for France, he asks Helen to join him, and with a broken heart, she refuses, bidding him a tearful farewell. 

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