Tomorrow (1972) is a deceptively simple film that has truly gotten lost in the shuffle over the past few decades. It didn't exactly rake in the cash at the box office, most likely due to a lack of "big-name talent". Of course, the time since then has changed our perspective of those involved, specifically leading man Robert Duvall. While he had already made a name for himself in such films as To Kill A Mockingbird, True Grit, M*A*S*H*, and The Godfather (released the same year), perhaps most viewers weren't ready to accept him in this kind of leading role.
Such doubt is quickly put to rest after seeing Duvall as Jackson Fentry, the protagonist of Tomorrow. Fentry is about as iconic as characters come; in short, there's no one else quite like him. Everything about him---mannerism, speech, and personality---is strangely captivating, despite his ordinary appearance. Speaking in dry, broken sentences, the words that come out of Fentry's mouth are honest, simple, and straight to the point. His speech is perhaps his most unique personality trait: while some would assume the man to be slow or unintelligent, he proves to be anything but. His syllables are long and drawn out (Duvall has been quoted as comparing Fentry's speech to that "of a cow"), making this unique vocal styling a veritable father to Billy Bob Thornton's character in Sling Blade (strangely enough, also featuring Duvall).
Fentry is a quiet man who keeps to himself, and rarely speaks unless spoken to. It wasn't exactly a role that just anyone could jump into, as the subtle complexities of Fentry are what make the character so memorable. To his credit, Duvall really makes this performance work...he's admitted that Tomorrow was one of his favorite projects to work on, and it really shows. Even in the film's countless moments of quitet introsepction, there's magic in Duvall's performance.
At the heart of Tomorrow lies a simple premise. In short, it tells the story of a man who encounters friendship---and eventually love---in the most unlikely of situations. Fentry is employed as a caretaker of a sawmill in the deep South, and remains by himself for weeks at a time. Although he rarely visits home, Fentry has plans to travel back to his father's farm for Chirstmas, which lies some 30 miles away from the sawmill. Unfortunately, he never makes the trip home that year. Wandering around outside the property, Fentry discovers a pregnant woman by the name of Sarah Eubanks (played wonderfully by Olga Bellin, in her only film appearance), who has fainted due to exhaustion from the harsh weather conditions. He selflessy takes her in, determined to nurse her back to health. We soon learn that Sarah's husband had disappeared upon hearing news of the pregnancy.
While Fentry seems stangely content with living alone, it's quickly revealed that he's quite a gracious host. Through the next few months, he waits on Sarah hand and foot, never asking for anything in return. Although it's fairly obvious that the initial acts of kindness were done out of simple compassion, this bond of friendship and respect eventually leads to deeper feelings between the two. Situations still to come are hardly as heartwarming, though: without getting into too much detail, very rough road lies ahead, as Tomorrow doesn't go for a Hollywood happy ending. Instead, it's a tale of love, companionship, and survival that will disarm you with its simplicity.
Based on the short story by Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury), Tomorrow varies greatly from its source material. The original story, published in The Saturday Evening Post, focuses on the murder trial of a man named Bookwright. Fentry serves as a juror on the trial, and his judgement hangs the jury. The story of Fentry and the woman is but one section of this brief story, and her name is never given. The movie takes a different approach, creating a character study that focuses on the events before this murder, with the trial serving as a bookend (NOTE: this alternate version was used in a tele-play and theater piece). Unfortunately, the lack of emphasis on the trial may be confusing for those who aren't familiar with the short story, creating perhaps the film's only real weakness. While the original story shows the woman's character as but a footnote, the film reverses the emphasis, resulting in a jarring pair of transitions at the film's introduction and conclusion. While it's impossible to imagine a happy medium between the two, they seem to fight with one another rather than establish a proper context.
Additionally, it's worth noting that Sarah's character was the creation of screenwriter Horton Foote (Of Mice and Men, To Kill A Mockingbird), making this story as much his as Faulkner's original. Alternately, the personality of Fentry was partially a creation of Robert Duvall, who succeeded in bringing a well-developed and thoroughly interesting character to the screen. For these reasons, Tomorrow is a rare film that varies greatly from the original source material, but is still a true work of art in its own right.
While it's not a perfect film by any means, Tomorrow succeeds greatly in creating full-realized and sympathetic characters, and a strong foundation for a unique viewing experience. Again, the performances of Duvall and Bellin are strong enough to carry the film through it's deliberately-paced 100-minute running time. Helmed by Jospeh Anthony (who unfortunately passed away in 1993), the dry and dreary Depression-era landscape is captured perfectly on black and white film. In short, Tomorrow is a true gem of 1970s cinema, and will hopefully burrow its way out of obscurity in the years to come. To further the film's reach, it arrives on DVD courtesy of Home Vision Entertainment, the parent company of The Criterion Collection. It's a well-rounded release that really preserves the film from a technical standpoint, despite a somewhat light assortment of extras. In any case, let's see how this one stacks up:
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Presentation:
For a 30-year old film, the DVD treatment of Tomorrow is excellent. The 1.33:1 (original aspect ratio) full-frame transfer is extremely clean and showcases the simple, stark cinematography in fine detail. Additionally, the DVD features solid black levels and an exceptional level of contrast, and grain is kept to a minimum. Overall, the restoration by Home Vision Entertainment was as good as always, and their effort really makes the viewing experience all the more enjoyable.
Like the video, Tomorrow's audio restoration showcases a much cleaner and detailed sound than many viewers will remember. Presented in its original Mono, Tomorrow won't blow you away in the sound department, but the subtle, understated tone of the film doesn't lend itself to a flashy presentation. Still, even with the restoration, some dialogue is slightly hard to make out---especially that of the protagonist---and, unfortunately, no subtitles are included.
DVD Presentation & Packaging:
The 100-minute film is divided neatly into 20 chapters on this dual-layer disc. Stark, simple menu designs are but another highlight, showcasing animated scenes from the film and equally simple background music. The packaging was also well-done, featuring a striking cover image and a nice, clean layout. A very helpful booklet is also included as part of the packaging, and just happens to include one of the disc's best bonus features. How's that for a segue?
Although there's really not much here to go through, the tone of Tomorrow doesn't exactly lend itself to a full-blown, 2-disc Special Edition. With that said, I'm still disappointed that we weren't at least given an Audio Commentary. In its place, we're treated to an Interview with Robert Duvall and Screenwriter Horton Foote (17 minutes, above right). These two long-time friends provide a nice little chat that sheds a little light onto the film's history and production, including a few interesting anecdotes concerning the original stage version of the story. Unfortunately, it's a little too short to go into great detail, and a full-length commentary would have really been the icing on the cake. Also here is the film's Theatrical Trailer, which shows just how much the film has been restored. Last but not least, the original Short Story has been reprinted in the included 24-page booklet, complete with illustrations by artist Floyd Davis. This was an extremely thoughtful inclusion by Home Vision Entertainment, and very appropriate for this release. Overall, while Tomorrow is still a little light on extras for my taste, the superb technical presentation is easily the selling point of this release.
Tomorrow is an excellent film that deliberately takes its time, requiring a modest amount of patience from viewers. It's a disarmingly simple tale of love, empathy, hardship, and personal growth that needs to be seen to be truly appreciated. Home Vision's DVD provides a great technical presentation combined with a light portion of bonus features, and will be a must-buy for any fan of this criminally overlooked film. Although it may not make a rock-solid blind buy for your average filmgoer (especially considering the $30 price tag), serious fans of cinema will be doing themselves a favor by giving this disc a spin. Recommended.
Other Links of Interest:
William Faulkner: American Writer (A Comprehensive Guide)
Home Vision Entertainment - The Official Site
Robert Duvall - The Complete Filmography at IMDb
Randy Miller III is an art instructor and gallery assistant based in Harrisburg, PA, who also enjoys freelance graphic design and illustration. When he's not doing that, his hobbies include slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.