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Home Vision Entertainment
1972 / B&W / 1:37 flat full frame / 103 min. / Street Date May 4, 2004 / 29.95
Starring Robert Duvall, Olga Bellin, Sudie Bond, Richard McConnell, Peter Masterson, William Hawley, James Franks, Johnny Mask
Cinematography Allan Green
Art Direction Barbara Tindall
Film Editor Reva Schlesinger
Original Music Irwin Stahl
Written by Horton Foote from his play from the story by William Faulkner
Produced by Gilbert Pearlman, Paul Roebling
Directed by Joseph Anthony

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 skip 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 Story, 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 matte-off.

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 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. 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 adoring devotion.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Tomorrow rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Very Good
Sound: Excellent
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 Tomorrow piece:

"[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

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