Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
This intense B&W film is a completely uncompromising "American Independent" that's been praised a
lot more than it has been seen. A labor of love starring a pre- Godfather Robert Duvall
in the role he calls his favorite, Tomorrow is said to be the best translation of
William Faulkner to the screen.
HVe's DVD presents a perfect copy of the rare feature and a pleasant interview - conversation
with star Duvall and writer adaptor Horton Foote.
Cotton farmer Jackson Fentry (Robert Duvall) spends a lonely winter as the
caretaker for a lumber mill. Just before Christmas an abandonded pregnant wife named Sarah
Eubanks (Olga Bellin) turns up in need. Fentry nurses her, telling the curious that she's his wife.
As the time approaches for Sarah to have her baby, her health doesn't improve. Fentry continues
to ask her to be his wife but she has to decline, as she already has a husband somewhere.
The title Filmgroup Productions comes up on screen, but not for a moment do we confuse this austere
tale with anything by Roger Corman. Even though distributors might have thought for a moment that
Tomorrow was a futuristic story, it's one of those uncompromising films that is not going to
appeal to a wide audience. If it got a release in 1972, it was a very limited one.
William Faulkner's influence on the modern novel and particularly the modern Latin American Novel is
widely known. This great writer drifted to Hollywood and Howard Hawks movies and spent a lot of time
as an alcoholic, but his interlocking novels and stories about the South grew in reputation. The
short story Tomorrow makes mention of the character Ben Quick, from
The Long Hot Summer.
Through Horton Foote and Robert Duvall, Faulkner's vision of the provincial South comes to life in
all its strangeness. The story is fleshed out by greatly enlarging the Sarah Eubanks character. The
exact era portrayed is unclear - nobody mentions anything that indicates the 20th century. In
the backwoods country everyone travels by foot or mule or buggy. Faulkner's South has a timeless
feeling of stasis. Nothing seems to change even as the people grow older and die.
Duvall's Fentry character is the last person one would think to be involved in a story about devotion
and love. When we first see him he seems a monosyllabic cretin, but his lack of blather turns out to
be intentional; he just doesn't believe in unnecessary communication. Most of the backwoods people
the small talk but Fentry almost drops speech altogether; nobody says please or thank you but they
show their respect for one another by lending their attention and honest patience. Sarah is
not frightened by Fentry. He shows his interest and his concern through his actions, never asks for
anything and proves himself a tender companion. Not soon thereafter he blurts out "Will
you be my wife?" and there's nothing awkward about it. It's a different world of different relations.
Tomorrow is strangely structured with a haphazard opening involving a shooting that almost
looks incompetent. The movie dives into a flashback before we really know who's narrating, and nothing
makes sense until we come out of the flashback near the end. With the Fentry - Sarah part of the
narrative taking up the most space, a later episode still in flashback is a little tentative.
The story ends with a sense of narrative discontinuity nagging at its perfect
characters and atmospherics. The real point is barely alluded to - why an angelic
good boy would become a delinquent hellion. Although the other story elements are interesting, only
the awkward romance in the sawmill is memorable. This is probably the central reason why Faulkner's
amorphic literature distorts so badly in normal Hollywood adaptations.
Robert Duvall is nothing short of inspired in a role that requires doing a lot of "nothing" perfectly
while inhabiting the soul of a man from another time and another world. Olga Bellin is a wonderful
foil in that she truly seems a backwoods creature and not some Broadway actress dressed in rags. This
was her only movie; she was in a soap opera earlier in the 60s. As the midwife, Sudie Bond (Love
They Might Be Giants,
Silkwood is unusually sensitive
while being completely backwoods-convincing. Tomorrow was director Joseph
Anthony's last picture. He made a short series of stage-related Hollywood films in the late 50s with big
stars - The Rainmaker, The Matchmaker, Career. You can't say that Tomorrow
put an end to his career, as it seems instead to have been a creative afterthought. The style is spare
and designed for atmosphere instead of pace, and the best compliment for it is that it's never boring.
The B&W filming focuses on the Faulkner drama by not distracting us with color photography of what
must be a beautiful shooting area. It also probably helps disguise the fact that the action is supposed
to be taking place in a harsh winter.
Home Vision's DVD of Tomorrow is a clear transfer of a fine film element. A couple of shots
are washed out but the rest of the picture looks to be near perfect. I'm assuming it was an aesthetic
choice not to letterbox or enhance the image, as the titles fit nicely within a 1:78 widescreen
The extras boil down to a fuzzy trailer (with critical text supered by a video process) and a fine
2003 interview with Robert Duvall and Horton Foote. They praise Tomorrow's picturization of
which they felt in 1971 was being distorted by the movies (presumably in stories about subhuman
hillbillies, etc.). That's interesting considering Foote's scathing condemnation of everything Texan
in The Chase several years earlier.
Robert Duvall had a key early role in that film, too. The actor and writer's ongoing collaborations
attest to their co-commitment to the material. 1
They also detail the stage play's evolution, the other actors, working with the child actor
Johnny Mask and how proud they are of the picture. Duvall's deference to the aging Foote verges on
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Video: Very Good
Supplements: Theatrical trailer, interview with Robert Duvall and Horton Foote,
original short story and accompanying illustrations by artist Floyd Davis from
The Saturday Evening Post, Liner notes by Sheila Benson
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 6, 2004
1. A helpful correction
from the mysterious "woggly," AKA "B", 5.09.04:
Dear Glenn: I don't quite understand an observation near the closing of your
"[Duvall and Horton Foote] praise Tomorrow's picturization of Southern
life, which they felt in 1971 was being distorted by the movies
(presumably in stories about subhuman hillbillies, etc.). That's
interesting considering Foote's scathing condemnation of everything
Texan in The Chase several years earlier."
First, I don't believe that Horton Foote has written any work that
could be described as "a scathing condemnation of everything Texan."
Second, by the time Foote's novel and play The Chase -- decanted by
the author from some of his stories and television dramas -- was
deconstructed and retrofitted by screenwriter Lillian Hellman, then
partly redacted by Foote and finally rewritten by Ivan Moffat to the
specifications of producer Sam Spiegel, it was difficult to identify
which hands condemned what. The Chase is an angry movie, but it is for
the most part a confused movie. Which leads me to believe that little
of Foote's structure or story development survived the many chefs
responsible for the film's construction.
What I do know, though, is that Foote is passionate about the state of
his birth. Most of his plays and original film scripts are set in Texas,
and many simply show life in small towns remarkably similar to Wharton,
the author's own hometown.
By the way -- Peter Masterson, the lawyer in Tomorrow who partly
narrates the picture, is Horton Foote's son-in-law. [He'd later direct
the movie of A Trip to Bountiful.] After over thirty years, I've still
never forgotten the last few lines and images of the picture. The
lawyer's understated shock that Fentry's old heart had such capacity for
love. Duvall's impassive face. The old courthouse in late afternoon.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. Best, Always -- B.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson