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One wonders what the story approval process was like at Warner Bros. in 1951, when the political climate required studios to have their radar tuned to anti-American content. Conservatives must have groused and complained when they saw "subversive" films by soon-to-be blacklisted directors like Joseph Losey and Cy Endfield: The Prowler, The Underworld Story, Try and Get Me! Vocal right winger Clare Booth Luce attended foreign film festivals where Eastern-bloc representatives waged a propaganda war against American culture. Luce screamed murder at Soviet propaganda pictures, and responded to the "threat" they represented by entreating European producers not to hire blacklisted Americans. When she could, she refused to allow films that might paint a negative picture of America (Blackboard Jungle, for one) to represent the U.S. at film festivals.
All this history has only a tentative connection to the 1951 WB release Tomorrow is Another Day, which tells the story of an ex-con struggling against injustice and hard luck. Writer Guy Endore was blacklisted after the movie, not for his film work but for his political activism. This is just conjecture, but Tomorrow is Another Day really plays like a Losey or Endfield-type project, which has been neutered by studio rewrites. 1
Bill Clark (Steve Cochran) is released from prison after serving 18 years for murder. Locked away since he was 15 years old, Bill is unprepared to re-enter society. Having learned to weld, he finds a job right away, but that break is ruined when an opportunistic newsman splashes his picture in the papers with the inference that he's still a threat to society. Bill flees to New York. One lonely night he meets the hardboiled Cay Higgins (Ruth Roman) in a dime-a-dance joint. Bill's basic innocence is appealing, but when Cay brings him home they're met by a corrupt detective, who becomes abusive. Bill is knocked cold, and Cay shoots the cop with his own gun. She flees to her brother's place, and when Bill shows up she tells him that he fired the fatal shot. Cay's sister-in-law (Lee Patrick) throws them out, and they hitchhike to California. Along the way they marry to avoid suspicion, but Cay and Bill are fast falling in love. They hitch with the Dawsons (Ray Teal & Lurene Tuttle), migrant farm workers en route to Salinas. Bill adjusts to the hard labor of picking lettuce and Cay makes a home for them in a migrant shack community. When the Dawson's son Johnny (Bobby Hyatt) sees Bill's picture in a crime magazine, Mr. Dawson wants to call the cops and collect the $1,000 reward. Mrs. Dawson says no but changes her mind when her husband is severely injured in a car wreck. Bill still has the detective's gun, and has sworn never to go back to prison again ...
Pictures like Try and Get Me!, The Lawless and The Prowler take pains to present a picture of America that contrasts with the officially sanctioned fantasy seen in glossy Hollywood movies. The thesis of these movies is that American ethics is a sham. Policemen are corrupt and the public can easily become a murderous mob. Van Heflin's Bad Cop in The Prowler hurriedly packs his suitcase, whining that "everybody" in America is a crook on the take, shortchanging customers, cheating on taxes, etc. Tomorrow is Another Day really seems to be this kind of a story, after all the rough edges have been dulled and the political criticism jettisoned.
Art Cohn and Guy Endore's uneven script puts a gloss on events treated much more directly in other films, like Nicholas Ray's They Live by Night and even the compromised Fuller-Sirk movie Shockproof. Bill Clark might have gotten a much lighter sentence for killing his abusive father, but he was too honest a teenager to act the victim. The warden knows he's turning Bill out into the streets totally unprepared, but the script pictures him as a 'caring' authority figure. When Bill starts a fight in the newspaper office the unscrupulous newsman admits that he was at fault, exonerating both Bill and the newspaper's reporting policy. We never find out exactly what crooked deal Cay has going with the corrupt New York cop. She may just be his girlfriend or it may be an allusion to something worse -- the dance hall girls seem available for hire for 'private lessons' outside of work. Cay's sister-in-law sees that they're thrown out but the brother's thoughtful attitude doesn't allow an outright condemnation of their behavior
Cay and Bill repeatedly interpret police behavior as a threat. The authorities in Tomorrow is Another Day are always benign, which reverses earlier radical takes on the story of "desperate innocents on the run", first begun in Fritz Lang's You Only Live Once. The lovers only imagine that they're in a hopeless trap set by "the system". The True Crime magazine that displays Bill's picture has the facts all wrong. Driven by their (film noir - encouraged?) paranoia, Cay and Bill are their own worst enemy.
Tomorrow is Another Day goes off in several undeveloped directions. At its core it's a romantic drama, with Cay repeatedly rejecting Bill's offer of a watch before finally accepting it with an open heart. The lettuce-picking episode pretends that The Grapes of Wrath never happened. Although fairly rustic, the migrant camp is clean and nobody seems to be exploited or underpaid. The Dawsons own a car, lead something like a normal life and even go fishing on their day off. No minorities are visible and the pickers are welcome to get haircuts in town. 2
(spoiler) The "Judas" episode is handled fairly well, considering that it extends tender sympathies toward Mrs. Dawson, the informer. An almost identical situation occurs in Shockproof, but the illicit lovers in that story flee before it is proven that their fears are unfounded. The real comparison is with the haunted Matty in They Live by Night: she sends the hero to his death foolishly thinking that her own life will be happy when the corrupt Southern prison system returns her own man. (spoiler continues) Weirdly, the film's most dramatic situation is not resolved. (no kidding about the spoiler now) Cay and Bill walk out into the sunlight free and clear but we never see Mrs. Dawson being told that her betrayal will be for naught. The movie therefore dodges taking a stand on informing, on 'naming names'. We may forget that Mrs. Dawson will not be collecting a reward, and that her husband may die because modern medical miracles are reserved for people who can pay. Now that's a noir ending, hiding in plain sight.
1951 was a big push year for Steve Cochran as a leading man (see the Savant review of Highway 301). Cochran played hulking creeps only too well in big pictures like White Heat, which may have been a negative factor in his reach for stardom. In Tomorrow is Another Day Cochran does his best to seem slightly immature. Bill gobbles up three pieces of pie upon his release from jail (sounds like a good idea to me) and tags along behind Cay like a lost puppy. Bill is sympathetic but not particularly sexy, even though he frequently takes his shirt off. The film has a lot of tight kissing clinches, but Cochran doesn't quite look natural in his blue jeans and motorcycle jacket.
Top-billed Ruth Roman is another story altogether. Roman's icy reputation would seem to be built on her appearance as the cold girlfriend in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. Check her out in almost anything else early in her career -- Champion, The Window, Lightning Strikes Twice -- and Ruth Roman comes off as vivacious, sultry and passionate. Most movies didn't even take advantage of Roman's good looks -- she begins Tomorrow is Another Day as a devastating blonde with a killer smile, easily grabbing other girls' men: "Come say hello when you get bored!"
Finally, who in their right mind decided to call this picture Tomorrow is Another Day - ? Even now, I'll bet some of the audience would tune in expecting a sequel to the adventures of Scarlett O'Hara. That's like re-titling the horror movie The Flesh Eaters as I'll Never Go Hungry Again.
The Warner Archive Collection DVD-R of Tomorrow is Another Day is an excellent remastering of this unusual Warners picture, made at a time when many of the old contract stars had jumped ship or demanded salaries commensurate with their marquee value. The solid B&W transfer is a bit light in the bit rate on a few fades to black but otherwise displays the studio's excellent production values. Cameraman Robert Burks (soon to become Hitchcock's preferred director of cinematography) gives every scene clean lines, even the complicated setup when Cay and Bill hitch a ride on a double-decker car transporter truck. We can see the makeup details too, a clarity that causes us to wince when Cay gives the severely sunburned Bill a big hug. Hey, he doesn't double up in agony -- somebody call the blooper police.
The release has no extras. The confusing original ad art on the cover shows Cochran trying to kiss Roman, and it looks like he's biting her on the chin. The tagline is "They take their lives in their hands ... When they take each other in their arms!" Combined with the "huh?" title, we might wonder if the film is about the ravages of venereal disease.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Tomorrow is Another Day rates:
1. I have absolutely nothing to back up this wholly subjective theory except experience. Does such a "gee, do you think ..." line of questioning have a place in a film review, or is it an exercise in self-indulgence, even with my disclaimers? It can't be any worse than some of the reverse-engineered editorials I read in the newspapers.
2. For a while we think this may be the one and only movie in which actor Ray Teal doesn't play a redneck, a corrupt cop or a small-minded bigot. When his Mr. Dawson considers informing on Bill for a quick $$ payday, he comes back into line. We're almost relieved. Ray Teal is the consistent working-class Noir creep.
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T'was Ever Thus.