Tomorrow Is Forever (MGM LE Collection) Review

Orson Welles is quoted in Peter Bogdanovich's biography of the director This Is Orson Welles as saying that he acted in the 1946 RKO-released melodrama Tomorrow Is Forever strictly for monetary reasons. He directed none of it, instead leaving those duties to Irving Pichel, a former actor turned competent craftsman. Welles claimed to have been too busy writing a daily newspaper column, doing two radio programs each day and also penning occasional magazine articles during the shoot to do much more than show up and say his lines. One almost wonders how he even managed to do that considering how much he appears in the film and how dominant, as usual, his onscreen presence is. He was reportedly paid $20,000 for the job and also reaped the benefits of its box office success. It was, most likely, the first of many screen roles Welles took on simply for the paycheck during the course of his career. The film far outgrossed any of his previous appearances, doubling the take of Citizen Kane.

The commercial success of Tomorrow Is Forever was almost certainly owed to its genre, the postwar timing of release and the presence of Claudette Colbert rather than any involvement by Welles. It's what is often considered a "woman's picture," meaning, in part, that there are emotionally heightened moments between men and women which allow us to experience things vicariously we probably wouldn't otherwise. In this case, Colbert plays a Baltimore woman whose husband (Welles) has gone overseas to fight in the first world war. She receives a telegram announcing his death, which understandably leaves her distraught. Her employer's son, played by George Brent, vows to take care of Colbert. Now pregnant with Welles' child, she stays with Brent and his aunt to recuperate, eventually becoming his wife.

Prior to an elapsing of about twenty years, a tease shows a heavily bandaged Welles, still alive and in an Austrian hospital but having lost the will to live. He will later return to Baltimore, now with an orphaned little girl (played, in a remarkable performance, by Natalie Wood), and find employment with Brent's company as a chemist. This sets up the inevitable reunion between Welles, now sporting a beard and cane and speaking with an Austrian accent, and Colbert. To the film's credit, it unfolds anything but predictably. Indeed, the dreaded tropes, of everything from demonizing Brent to portraying Colbert and Welles with a gushing true love sentiment, are largely avoided. It's an impressive detour from the expected, and the film is better than the lukewarm reactions which have appeared again and again in books on Welles.

There's certainly no comparing Tomorrow Is Forever to Kane or The Magnificent Ambersons. Even Journey Into Fear, which followed the latter at RKO, shows much more of the technical zing that Welles was known for than this steadfastly benign picture. The lack of directorial involvement from Welles is, clearly, the big difference here. Aside from the solid story elements, the appeal in Tomorrow Is Forever, for many at least, still nonetheless lies with Welles, though this time strictly as a performer. It's almost too easy to overlook his acting talents for the allure of praising his filmmaking skills. Some see Welles as forceful in the wrong ways, hammy even. But he's often mesmerizing to watch, particularly during this decade. His acting in Kane is a not insignificant part of that film's appeal. The entrance in The Third Man is justifiably iconic, and it's important to remember that he, for all intents and purposes, creates Harry Lime as we know the character. Meanwhile, the bloated and compromised police captain in Touch of Evil stands as perhaps his finest performance for the screen.

In Tomorrow Is Forever, Welles employs some of his favorite tricks. He turns to heavy make-up, adopts an accent and a limp, and plays a character who's significantly older. But the true acting often comes through in his eyes. You see hurt and defeat in them. It may not be one of Welles' especially memorable roles but he still remains compelling in the part. Onscreen, he commands the viewer's attention. We feel sympathy and sometimes confusion for his character, and the film wouldn't work as well with another actor. It could be various outside elements adding to the fascination in seeing Welles, particularly still as a young man, in a lead film role, but the appeal remains regardless of the reasoning. Each performance becomes a treat of sorts for those who marvel at Welles' career. That he's seemingly so far out of his usual element here, though acquitting himself nicely, extends the appeal.


The Disc

It's okay to celebrate the arrival of Tomorrow Is Forever on some form of digital media while still bristling a little at its placement on a DVD-R courtesy of the MGM Limited Edition Collection. The MOD disc is single-layered and contains a progressive transfer.

Presented as it should be in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the film looks decent enough here. The opening United Artists logo reminded me of popping in a VHS instead of a rounder, lighter and supposedly superior release. The image is a bit soft on the whole but consistent throughout and absent any major damage. A few light scratches and marks are visible near the film's end. Contrast remains modest, with black levels classifiable as only mediocre. It's a reasonably decent presentation on the whole, clearly from an unrestored source but minus any major imperfections that might deter from the viewing.

The English mono audio contains a few audible pops. A mild hiss is also present. It's a weak track susceptible to outside imperfections but fine in delivering dialogue at an acceptable and consistent volume. The Max Steiner score never registers as a focal point. Subtitles are not offered.

There are no extra features included on the disc. The red-tinted cover is mildly attractive but couldn't they have found another still to use for the back of the case rather than repeating what's on the front?


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