Monday, November 21, 2011

When Tomorrow Comes

Irene gone with the wind - we're still in 1939 - in
 "When Tomorrow Comes"           

Release date 08.11.1939

"I'm not bitter... I just feel sort of numb in here."

Another workday at one of the common restaurants in New York; waitress Helen (Irene) and her co-workers are busy with lunch hour. The girls are a little bit nervous because of an Union meeting in the evening and a possible upcoming strike. Helen - herself left-wing oriented - tries to calm them down. One of the diners that day is Frenchman Philip (Charles Boyer) who immediately attracted to Helen follows her to the Union meeting.

For once, Irene takes Charles' order...

Helen speaks at the gathering, and manages to convince the other waitresses to strike. Philip introducing himself simply as a pianist - Helen assumes that he plays somewhere in a bar and has a similar background  like herself - walks Helen home, and persuades her to jaunt with him the next day.
The trip starts nicely and comfortably on a boat with a picnic lunch from the Ritz but soon a storm comes up  and the couple is forced to take refuge in Philip's Long Island house. Helen quickly discovers that Philip is not only the wealthy owner of this mansion but the famous pianist Philip Andre Chagal - and, well, he is married. Despite the hurricane outside and the seductive fireplace atmosphere inside, Helen begs Philip to drive her back to town , after he kissed her.

The storm is not what I am afraid of...

And then a tree falls atop of the car, and they have to look for shelter in a church, and then they think they'll drown, but they don't and are rescued the next morning and then Philip tells Helen that he is desperately in love with her. And then on their way back to New York they meet Philip's wife Madeline (Barbara O'Neil), who turns out to be mentally disturbed. And then Helen sends Philip away, and then Philip returns and tells her that he can't give her up. And then Philip's wife turns up at Helen's threshold and pleads her case - "I am mentally ill, but not all the time, and I am helpless, and won't you give up Philip?" And then Helen dines the last - no it's the first time - with Philip and decides to send him alone to Paris, and then Philip leaves...

The first/last dinner...

Okay, I admit my recount of this storyline is a little bit flippant, but when I first watched this film I felt dissapointed and this feeling still lingers on. What a waste of talent and opportunities! "When Tomorrow Comes" was based on an unpublished story by James M. Cain, and after I read the not until 1951 published novel, I assume that Cain was the reason why this movie starts so promising. Irene as a waitress with communist leanings, delivering a rousing speech at an Union meeting is an interesting change of path for her; and Charles Boyer as leading man and John M. Stahl as director - how exciting! My expectations were fulfilled in the first 40 minutes and then a storm comes up and in a jiffy I end up with a drab love story at my hands. Why didn't they stick to "The Modern Cinderella" - so the working title - story? 

"Modern Cinderella" beaming

The exit of the Cinderella still could have worked if the love story which uses all kind of dramatic situations as aids - storm, water, toppling trees, and even a mental case - wouldn't hesitate every time drama really tries to take its toll. For instance, this scenery in the church - our protagonists just narrowly escaped death, water is streaming into their shelter, and they start talking about the end of the world... their love is anyway ill-starred, maybe they are facing death, one way or the other those are their last hours together, and all they can think about is taking a nap?? Of course, Irene making herself comfortable on/at Charles is nice  to watch, but after I schlepped through this scenery of elementary forces I am in the mood for some drama or let's just say some heart-to-heart talk. I'm defenitely not in for a snooze, especially not with Irene and Charles around! 

I have to admit, this looks cosy...

The story as a whole is so patchy, as if different writers wrote each one scene only vaguely telling each other what happened beforehand. When the nutty wife turned up, I knew I would not even get a happy end.  Old Hollywood husbands plain and simple don't leave their psychologically unstable wives. This is sort of reassuring - at least for the deranged  females - but Philip's Missis seems to be of the dangerous kind. In the scene with Helen Madeline comes across as manipulative and creepy. What is she going to do next? Burn the house down?? Barbara O'Neil played her so spookily, that she managed to distract me from Irene - and this is really something!

Irene with scene stealer - according to Irene adding some needed pep - Barbara O'Neil

Naturally, my lament is complaining on a high level. Everything but this uneven story is beautiful. Irene and Charles Boyer create together a glowing onscreen presence as if they'd increase each other, and director John M. Stahl obviously knew what he was doing. Especially the beginning - I admire how we "walk" into the story - and the last minutes - a wonderful example of Dunne/Boyer underacting - are outstanding. 
I am well aware that the sources of my irritation are probably censorship and Irene's onscreen persona - who would be interested to elaborate on a tough cookie/Union girl image for her? - but this time my knowledge does not help. "When Tomorrow Comes" simply doesn't ring true for me; an accumulation of pleasant to watch screen moments sums up to a movie I don't really like. At least, I am in good company; Irene didn't like this picture, too, kind of "Dunne like" not exactly telling why but her vagueness echoes my uncomfortable feelings about this film. Miss Dunne gets the last word (interview with James Harvey, 1978):

I can't help it. 

JH: But you didn't enjoy making When Tomorrow Comes, the Stahl film with Boyer?
ID: No, I didn't. It's quite a nice way I have, isn't it, of blocking things out I don't like to remember?... I only remember one scene in that film... we were caught in a storm -- in a church choir?
JH: Yes, it's a strange scene.
ID: And he was a pianist -- or I was?
JH: He was. (I laugh)
ID: Yes, I remember him sitting at the piano... and was I a waitress?
JH: Yes, you were a waitress.
ID: I remember those early scenes, yes.
JH: You were very good in them, too. (She looks at me dryly, I laugh)
ID: (softly) I can't imagine that I was good in that.
JH: Really? Why not?
ID: Well... I don't know. I didn't like it. 
JH: And even working with Boyer didn't help?
ID: Not in that.
JH: Did he dislike it, too?
ID: I don't think he liked it very much...