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Thursday, April 29, 2010

There's Always Tomorrow Limps Onto DVD

Hurtling through cyberspace comes news that Universal botched the screen ratio on its DVD release of There's Always Tomorrow, Douglas Sirk's 1956 melodrama that Europeans thought enough of to release in a pair of (done right) special editions. Two questions: For how many buyers does this matter, and who's caring about (few) ones that complain? There's Always Tomorrow is part of a six feature Barbara Stanwyck set from Universal. Retail is $49.98. The film was exhibited 1.85 widescreen in theatres (and was, I'd maintain, composed for that ratio). Since 1956, showings have been mostly full-frame and on television. The latter reveals a lot of dead space at the top which was masked out by 50's projectionists. Universal has both transfers but gave us the one that's cropped. The same thing happened several years ago when they loused up The Deadly Mantis on DVD. These were likely oversights the company would consider unimportant. Both are the same movies, after all. Who'd be concerned beyond nitpickers like yours truly and the similarly anal retentive? Bless us one and all for wanting the best, but we're never going to get respect for that. Not so long as home video divisions are staffed by those outside hardcore movie life (I'd get fired off Uni's staff in a day for constantly second-guessing exec decisions). At least there's compensation of labels that do satisfy. Sony/Columbia's Hammer Suspense box for one. I'm still in disbelief that Cash On Demand and Never Take Candy From Strangers are now available on pressed disc, let alone bunched with four others equally rare.

So as to see There's Always Tomorrow properly presented, I ordered the Masters Of Cinema UK offering. Being Region 2 means you'll have to either get a multi-region player or hack your own to watch. MOC did a fine wide transfer with documentary extras and a forty-page booklet. The movie runs 84 minutes and is black-and-white. Director Sirk was something of a color specialist, that most evident in just preceded All That Heaven Allows, so reverting to B/W for this one comes unexpected. Maybe Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck weren't so big a names (by then) to justify such expense. I perused trades and found Universal's bigger selling guns trained on All That Heaven Allows, with nary an ad for There's Always Tomorrow, released but weeks behind Heaven and surely regarded by press and public as a poor relation. Sirk's melodramas were special for at least trying to intersect more with real life, however overblown general audiences might find them today. I'd be reluctant to watch one with a modern crowd. You'd need a persuasive host to calm the hyenas in advance. There's tendency to lump There's Always Tomorrow with so-called "women's pictures" of the era when it's actually a man's descent into conformist 50's hell we're addressing. Fred MacMurray buckles 'neath combined weight of family obligation and tempting presence of infatuated Stanwyck, middle-aged crises any number of husbands might have identified with, but were they attending There's Always Tomorrow or sitting home with shoes off watching Roller Derby?

Douglas Sirk gets a lion's credit for pics bearing his directoral signature, but I note Ross Hunter's participation as named producer on all the best ones and wonder ... how much did he contribute? Interviewed Sirk spoke of "the young man" Hunter who learned a lot (presumably from him) and never interfered. The director's recall was salted with reference to Freud, Berdolt Brecht, and Oedipus, an imposing triad that certainly would have shut me up had I been inclined to press Sirk further as to Hunter's creative input. I don't know of any Hollywood product (let alone out of Universal!) that inspire such serious analysis as Sirk's. He was boxoffice when that paid in the 50's and dedicated artist when cinéastes came knocking in the 70's. You might say he kind of lucked into a brace of atomic age mellers we now applaud for exposing hypocrisies of the time (all of us being so much more enlightened). By sheer chance or maybe design, Sirk (and/or Hunter?) fed our assumptions to come about repression our parent's generation labored under. We all get to feel quite superior watching poor Fred MacMurray navigate indifferent family waters all the deeper for his surrender to Establishment precepts. Sirk characters are like bugs under modern sensibility microscopes. Our lives may suck, but not so much as hapless Fred's in his suburb prison with bourgeoisie bars. Domestic settings in There's Always Tomorrow are an art-directed Alcatraz, all lattice and banister-laden to nail down hopelessness of MacMurray's plight. Children endlessly whine (so that doesn't go on anymore?) and eavesdropping is rife (with layers of misunderstanding to result). There's even Ma Joad Darwell braying about in a maid's uniform. Rays of hope for a finish are but tentative. Sirk said he wanted to strike an even sourer note there. I'd guess 1956 male patrons all but opted for gas pipe concessions either way after seeing There's Always Tomorrow.


Blogger Michael said...

Hunter undoubtedly had a lot to do with the picking and shaping of the material, like a good producer but what Sirk brought to the party is easy enough to see. Try watching the 1966 Madame X, produced by Hunter and starring Lana Turner, but directed by the pedestrian TV movie hand David Lowell Rich. There's none of Sirk's air in that souffle.

Sirk actually has what I consider one of the most recognizable directorial tics that demonstrates the auteur theory at work-- a tendency to hold on a character who's just spoken a line for a moment, as if to stare at them long enough catch the real feeling that the line of dialogue was trying to conceal. I saw one of his pre-war German films (Schlussakkord) and recognized it as his work instantly because of that. (You can also see Fassbinder doing it all through his Sirk homage, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.)

10:13 PM  
Blogger JAMES said...

Does anyone care that Columbia released GIDGET and THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS full screen? Or MGM released KISS ME KATE in full screen? Thank you TCM for the wide screen versions.

11:44 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Michael, I agree that Sirk brought unique gifts to every film he directed, but was best served at Universal where he had production support to realize his goals plus good properties there he could remake (three of his best for UI had been done there in the 30's). Maybe Hunter needed Sirk more than the other way around, but they were a good combination, judging by films that resulted.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Hey, so on my widescreen TV, couldn't I just pick one of the resizing options meant for widescreen movies, and cut There's Always Tomorrow off at top and bottom?

6:37 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

That might work, Michael, according to your set. Let us know if it does.

6:45 PM  
Blogger Eddie Selover said...

Hey, thanks for writing about this film. I'm happy to see it getting some love after so many years in obscurity... it's one of my favorites. I looked for the Masters of Cinema edition on amazon and it wasn't there... how did you find it?

p.s. this is my first comment but I'm a regular reader and I love the site.

8:07 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hi Edward --- You'll need to go to the link below to order:

10:16 AM  
Blogger Paul Penna said...

Reel change marks are present on the element used for the unmatted USA version, and they're obviously placed so as to be visible when the film was projected at about 1.85:1, i.e., they're about a third of the way down the right edge rather than in the upper right corner.

11:06 PM  
Blogger Paul Penna said...

Incidentally, the toy Stanwyck is holding in the still (and which gets a couple of nice action close-ups in the film) is a "Robert the Robot," first produced by Ideal in 1954. It went through several versions and was copied extensively by Japanese toymakers. One of the original Ideals is currently on eBay with an asking price of $4600.

Here's an article on Robert:
And a period promotional film showing his manufacture, rather poor quality unfortunately:

12:18 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Paul, I had no idea there was a "Robert The Robot." Thanks a lot for these links! And your point as to placement of reel change cues is further evidence that "There's Always Tomorrow" was intended to be shown on wide screens. Certainly by 1956, most theatres had transitioned to 1.85 projection (or thereabouts) for non-anamorphic shows.

8:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How nice to have come across your webbsite while searching for information about the film "There's always Tomorrow"! I love Fred MacMurray movies and knew most of them, but had never seen this little gem. I would love to buy the UK version of the DVD, but I don't have the means to play it. I am wondering if it would be possible to watch this DVD on the computer. What do you think?

6:17 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Greetings Cate --- I've never tried to play a Region Two disc on my computer, but something tells me it wouldn't work. You might be better advised to go ahead and pick up a Region Two DVD player. They tend to sell pretty cheap nowadays.

6:25 AM  

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