After Tomorrow

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 29, 2015

This is obviously adapted from a play. There’s some opening up at the beginning, but the beauty of it is that most of the film limits the setting in a very theatrical way. This may be a nod to the source, but mostly it concentrates and intensifies everything. And what intensity! The Depression is the excuse, and the nominal subject. They address it very well, too, but this is much more than a mere curio from its period. We have poverty, and the crushing, ubiquitous anxiety that it brings. We see how material uncertainty impinges upon the moral, and how very hard it is to maintain your courage. In this we see a film that is simultaneously principled and unflinching. The chastity discussion! The way it is couched in patterns of sorrow and compromise, and not just sanctimoniousness and crassness.

The challenges of the young lovers are beautifully complicated and expanded by the stories and presence of their parents. Josephine Hull is an effective comic-horrific smothering mother. The elder Taylors are another thing altogether. The anger and disappointment in their relationship, the tiny traces of tenderness, are positively Strindbergian. The exchange in which the mother repents of ever having borne the daughter is terrifying, mostly because there’s nothing of convention or commercialism in it. This is shaped story, but it’s a contrivance unto life. Look at the luminous scene—this is Borzage, after all—in which the youngsters’ well-wishing friends come over to rehearse the wedding ceremony. Look at how shatteringly it’s interleaved with the elders’ final dissolution. Von Stroheim’s wedding/funeral (1924) is pretty powerful, and deeply felt, and finally really nasty. This is the same thing, without blinking, without pretense, and with inexhaustible reserves of sorrow and mercy.

As mentioned, Arnheim talks about the disaster of the sound film. Seventh Heaven and Street Angel and Lucky Star prove the point beyond any debating. Well we lost Murnau, but his Fox-mate kept right on going. This very adult, profoundly appropriate film starts to make me think that the advent of the production code was the real tragedy!