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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Runner-Up Of Vet Homecomings

Till The End Of Time (1946) Is Best Years At Half The Sit

A drama about returning vets, Till The End Of Time is less heavy than the safe that fell on it a few months later, The Best Years of Our Lives, a proud industry's Anointed One re serviceman readjust. Let's just say that if you've two hours of patience for this topic rather than three, then End Of ... may be wiser invest. It tries less hard to be The statement on discharge to civilian woes and settles instead for less intense tour 'round L.A. when it was still sun-kissed enough to seem an attractive spot for living. There are skate rinks, lawn parties, low dives ... spots cheery here, but soon to collect flies from noir interp. These service guys don't pack rods or prod into murder like Alan Ladd's crew in The Blue Dahlia, a darker turn on what happens to three war buddies getting off a bus in L.A. Till The End Of Time's Robert Mitchum has a steel plate in his head from Iwo action, but isn't so bent mentally as Bill Bendix in Dahlia (written, significantly, by Raymond Chandler). Till The End Of Time was really about the romance of coming home, all of troubles neatly overcome by getting chips off shoulders (Guy Madison), a little attitude adjustment (Bill Williams), and seeing your rehab counselor when needed (Mitchum).

Script Study Between Scenes for Dorothy McGuire and Guy Madison

Till The End Of Time is mentioned less, but did precede Goldwyn's brontosaurus. It was sold, not with emphasis on postwar issues, but love between beautiful people that were Dorothy McGuire (she of "kissable lips," according to publicity) and Guy Madison, who was photographed as much with shirt off as on. These were focal point of all ads, star creation a priority as dictated by David Selznick, who was silent partnered with RKO and sold them package that was Till The End Of Time, complete with stars, producing Dore Schary, and script-from-novel by Niven Busch. Selznick was by mid-forties given less to mounting own projects than developing ones to a point, then handing ready-to-go to RKO, a company happy for meals they'd only have to microwave on soundstages. The split was good for all on a number of DOS/RKO ventures, % to each, and Schary wetting his beak as well. Some of negatives would revert to Selznick later: The Spiral Staircase, The Farmer's Daughter; but Till The End Of Time stayed with RKO, sunk deep in their TV lots, viewed often as not through bleary eye of late, late scheduling. Now there's at last a DVD, from Warner Archive, which looks good as likely will short of remaster to HD, which I hope is soon to-do by Warners.

A notable turn of phrase in 1946 promotion: Here's a photoplay that's timely and crammed with human interest, a drama of returned service men trying to adjust themselves to the forgotten conditions of peace, and anew to the influence of civilized womankind. Thus was essential difference between Till The End Of Time and The Best Years Of Our Lives, the latter focused primarily on mature men transitioning out of uniform (Fredric March, Dana Andrews), Years' younger principal Harold Russell largely immobilized by handicap. Till The End Of Time is about boys who've been rushed to manhood by combat and taking of lives overseas. Can "civilized womankind" back home straighten kinks left from three-four years at violent pursuit? This had to have been fear at least known if not felt by families taking back membership much changed by war. A potent scene in Till The End Of Time has "Cliff Harper" (Guy Madison) eating waffles prepared by his mother, who wants him still to be the boy she remembers, but distressed now as he refers to "stinking" foxholes and engages too-ribald chat with visiting Bill Tabeshaw (Robert Mitchum).

You Can Never Go Home (intact) Again is reality of Till The End Of Time, even as the picture goes yards toward reassuring us that these boys-suddenly-men will be OK with time and support extended by loved ones. The Brotherhood Of Broken Men is nicely conveyed when Cliff and Pat Ruscomb (Dorothy McGuire) comfort an Army discharge who's got post-trauma shakes. He sits isolated among kids in a canteen and can't pick up a Coke glass. Vets could spot trouble like his a mile off and would "close in" to assist where needed, says the film, and we can hope that was true during troubled time when so many wounded warriors were given back to civilian life. Whatever truth of the moment, it's sincerely done. Quick-to-temper and violent impulse as hangover from war is acknowledged by Till The End Of Time, Cliff a hair trigger at times (he nearly slugs an on-job supervisor), but he'll be calmed by "civilized womankind" that is Pat. Real life and solutions, if any, would not have been so simple, Till The End Of Time being palliative as most popular of movies were when addressing concerns that too sharp a focus could turn to despair. The Best Years Of Our Lives would deal a same uplift, both films' mission to make customers feel good, or at least hopeful, on ways out of watching.

Vets from the First War are shown as less complicated, Cliff's dad Tom Tully and neighbor pals sharing generation-ago laughs of Paris celebration when their war ended. Had we forgotten post-WWI horrors by 1946, or were they best laid aside to address greater urgency at hand? To hear Tully and crew tell it, theirs was youthful lark of French leave and wine by barrels. Pop's of mind that all Cliff needs is a couple days rest before renew of school or work. You'd think less than twenty years between wars would be basis for understanding, but Till The End Of Time's father-son gap is wide. Was that a case in households shared by two generations of war service? More hazard awaits modern vets, it seems, not least a crush of suspect groups the film ID's as fascist-inspired. As in The Best Years Of Our Lives and Ray Teal at Dana Andrews' drug counter, these guys rate a sock in the jaw before getting a word out, both Best Years and Till The End Of Time of shared mind that free speech needn't apply where such intruders are concerned.

Some Of Welcome Shooting On L.A. Locations

Till The End Of Time cunningly set postwar problems to music. The theme tune was adapted from Chopin and lately sung by Perry Como. Kids found it dreamy. Imagine such a thing today. They also went for Guy Madison in a big way. He'd been in the Navy, met Selznick scouts on leave, and was tried in Since You Went Away as, what else?, a sailor on leave. Fan mail went skyward, his SYWA cameo calibrated to achieve just that, by which time DOS had Madison locked at $100 per week once out of uniform. He'd be awkward at times in Till The End Of Time, but photographed splendidly with Dorothy McGuire. Madison was bait on a hook tossed to bobby-soxers. They'd go see the movie on repeat basis. Ones who liked skating nearer the edge went for Bob Mitchum, his "the most immoral face I've ever seen," according to (at least) one gum-popper. Bob would serve as hard stuff to Madison's soft drink, postwar's noir landscape more congenial to him. Till The End Of Time was economically made, one million spent on the negative, and crossed three million in worldwide rentals. I suspect it was fondly remembered by first-run patronage, but time would leave Time crumbs beside the Goldwyn special, a slight hopefully to be redressed by Warner Archive's disc release.


Blogger Michael said...

My guess is that lots of WWI American vets never saw actual combat, or only a few months of it, given that we were officially in the war only 18 months (add in training time, etc.) Where WWII lasted 3-1/2 years for America and many soldiers no doubt saw most of that.

11:25 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon shares some interesting observations on the topic of "Till The End Of Time" (Part One):


I really enjoyed your thorough discussion of "Till the End of Time". Just the title alone [adapted from a book, perhaps? I sped through the post, but not so fast I didn't enjoy your analysis/appreciation] has that touch of 'something bigger' that movies once routinely returned to again and again, the romantic (or more properly, Romantic capital 'R') quality. Today of course they serve up these symphonic compositions of CGI stuff out of the book of Revelation, but it's not Romantic in the least. In fact, it's PED-antic. That thing can only be accessed through movies of the '20s through the...well, the cut-off is not so easy to determine, is it? There are occasional trailings as we move forward toward out own rather drear time, today, signifying the lingering death of Romanticism. I thoroughly understand that movies like this one appears to be, much less something like "Since You Went Away", cannot fly today. All the more reason to enjoy them, even cherish them now, when there is a dearth of such material. It's not an accident that Fox's great adaptation of "Jane Eyre" came out the same year as "Since You Went Away", in my opinion (along with "Song of Bernadette".) They all reflect that enlarged, giddy, bigger-than-life quality, strongly buttressed by their musical scores (Herrmann, Steiner, and Newman from left to right!) In fact, I wonder who provided the music for this one? It being RKO, I can only suppose it was Roy Webb, the one-man band there, or Leigh Harline perhaps. Webb never really rang the bell for me, though his scores occasionally impress on a lower level. I mean, I like "Mighty Joe Young", and "Blood Alley", to name two extremely-at-random!

2:47 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon:

As for the grim, very un-Romantic reality this picture aims to address, I can only think of one dad among my peer group who, I discovered, had had a 'close encounter' with the enemy in WW2...and had had to carry that with him, of course, 'till the end of his life. As I heard it, he'd been set upon by a Japanese soldier...that'd have been shortened to "a Jap" in any anecdote decades ago, of course...and had to fight for his life, hand-to-hand, and obviously prevailed. I was gauche enough---and cringe, remembering it---to bring it up with him at a particular gathering. I feel so badly about this now, not only due to the obvious insensitivity, but in addition the real fact that I hardly even KNEW the guy. I knew his sons rather well, but I very rarely saw him. An extremely nice guy, whose bluff amiability was evenly distributed among his four boys. Anyway, being the natural gentleman, or to pursue the cliché, 'gentle man' he was---in spite of being good-looking and athletic enough to be on a Wheaties box---he responded in so muted a manner that it was clear to me, in spite of my curiosity and maladroit fascination, that he didn't wish to talk about it. I should think not. And I wasn't so dumb that I did not drop it, immediately. It's terrible, really terrible to think that as boys we are drawn to such reports, excited, and impressed to think that somebody we can see right in front of us was actually a victor in a life-or-death struggle. Why must it take growing older to appreciate that war is a boondoggle that forces innocent men on BOTH sides to kill and to be killed? It's still something I unconsciously set aside in some convenient room in my brain when I watch an old-style propaganda war picture. But it sells the best of those short, too, because really the best ones do NOT sidestep that, but meet it head on ("All Quiet On the Western Front", "The Story of G.I. Joe", "Battleground", et al.)

As for Guy Madison, I still have vague---very vague, as time goes by!---recollection of watching "Wild Bill Hickok", a TV show starring Madison and the lovable Andy Devine, whose hoarse "I'm comin', Bill!!" still echoes in the back chambers of my mental playback speakers. Madison, whether able or not, was obviously an uncommonly good-looking young guy, my God. Me, I think a lot of today's crop get by on THEIR looks just as much as somebody like Madison did, back then. He also has the air (even in your generous selection of stills and clippings on this film) of a man who appears to be completely comfortable in his own skin, even the match of Mitchum, so famously-so. And, I had to laugh to myself, as there are a couple of pictures of Mitchum in this post, his looks not quite 'set' as they became for us movie fans by the 1950s, where he looks arguably homely/weird next to the Greek god looks of Madison. But, look who made it to the end of the line in the A list, or B+...? Alcoholism and other misadventures notwithstanding. That's the difference between looks and personality/talent. Plus, as 'Mitch' once unforgettably stated, "Going to a school to learn acting is like trying to learn to be tall." He always put things in a way that couldn't be misunderstood!

2:47 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer recalls another postwar reflection, "From This Day Forward":

There was another film released in 1946 which dealt with the struggle of a serviceman to enter civilian life again, "From This Day Forward." It was also probably a package developed by David O. Selznick and sold to RKO, as it stars Joan Fontaine, then under contract to him, with the producer being William Pererira, who was the production designer for "Jane Eyre," which Selznick had developed before selling it to 20th Century-Fox.

Compared to "The Best Years of Our Lives" and "Till the End of Time," however, the effect of the war is almost tangential to the story. It begins with a young serviceman, played by Mark Stevens in his first leading role, being interviewed in a government employment assistance office. What follows is told in flashback, as he marries but struggles to find employment in Depression-era America. He loses job after job and has to depend on his wife's position as a clerk in a bookstore to get by. Of course, the marriage is placed under great strain by the financial circumstances they suffer through. Then the war comes and he joins the army, which brings us back to the government office and the interview. Little is made of his war experiences or how they affected him. Perhaps this isn't surprising, considering that the source material was a novel by Thomas Bell published in 1936, "All Brides are Beautiful." The war thus becomes a kind of segue between the Depression and its hopelessness and the postwar era, with the possibility of hope, but it is a hope not formed out of the war, but from a belief in a new order brought about by the government.

"From this Day Forward" has been described as the "most expressively optimistic film of the postwar left." No doubt one would look to the artistic talent behind the camera for that. John Berry, the director and an alumnus of the Mercury Theatre, would later take flight to France when he came to the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and the writer of the screenplay, Hugo Butler, would be blacklisted. Clifford Odets also worked on the screenplay and would be a friendly witness for the House Committee against Barry.

None of this is apparent in the advertising, of course. Joan Fontaine's name is featured above the title in the posters, with such tag lines as "Kiss and Run Story of Modern Marriage" and "When the Honeymoon fades out." The casual movie-goer, walking down a city boulevard looking for a show, would have been forgiven for thinking that this was a Joan Fontaine vehicle dealing with a domestic arrangement, and nothing having to do with the war. He would not have been too far off the mark, though Miss Fontaine might have disagreed with him, so far as it being a vehicle for her. This was her last picture under the Selznick contract.

2:50 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

That uncropped photo of the three male leads makes me laugh. I can hear the photographer: "OK, boys, pretend you're walking, and point -- and don't forget to give me your best smile!" What else could he have possibly said? Even at this stage of his career, Mitchum must have wanted to throw up.

3:40 PM  
Blogger b piper said...

"It's terrible, really terrible to think that as boys we are drawn to such reports, excited, and impressed to think that somebody we can see right in front of us was actually a victor in a life-or-death struggle. Why must it take growing older to appreciate that war is a boondoggle that forces innocent men on BOTH sides to kill and to be killed?"

It must take more than just growing older, since we still have old men forcing naive young men to go off and do their fighting for them.

12:58 PM  

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