Orson Welles copies Lord Tennyson’s poetry to make us sob

tomor2I think I heard a few sniffles out of some people the other day when we were watching Tomorrow is Forever (1946), a black and white movie starring Orson Welles and  Claudette Colbert.  I admit that this movie is moving, and one of the more genuine things Orson Welles has ever done.  The emotion is just that good.  Sure, it’s an old-fashioned, melodramatic movie complete with some stage-inspired monologues, but anyone who likes movies will like this one.  This movie isn’t an allegory, but it uses poetry for inspiration.  Anyone who has kids will like Claudette Colbert’s take on Elizabeth, a woman who has her husband taken away from her because of World War I.

tomor1This movie is expertly carried by Claudette Colbert, and I sympathized with her character from beginning to end.  She loses her husband, but she’s pregnant, so she has to raise his child alone.  Not for long though, because she remarries and has even more kids.  A whole twenty years pass before Orson Welles as John shows up again, but he has disguised himself so well that she doesn’t recognize him.

At first, I couldn’t understand John or what the fudge this guy was doing.  Sure, he’s limping around and he’s a bit scarred, but he’s alive.  He’s laying there in the hospital whining and complaining, depressed that he’s not a handsome jackass anymore, so he doesn’t tell his wife he’s really alive.  He just moves on and lets her shack up with somebody else.  Even when he comes face to face with her, John argues with her and tells her that he’s NOT John, but some Austrian guy who just reminds her of John.  Say what?

A lot of moments like the face to face are all Orson Welles needs to rock the screen with his acting skills, his face telling more about the scene than his words.  He can’t bring himself to pull Elizabeth back to the past, to ruin and change her life.  He’s so ashamed of his limp and his scars, but the emotional tole of the war does a lot deeper than that.  It’s a perfect setup for internal conflict. Orson Welles milks it.

tomor4When war comes around again, Elizabeth’s sons have grown up and now they want to go off to war themselves, spurred on by patriotism and not spoiled by hippies.  But she can’t bear it.  John stands around as an Austrian doctor named Kessler, and he gets to meet his grown-up son, whom he never knew as a baby, and steals some time with him.  Those scenes are great.  The actors should be proud of this movie.  Though stilted, the dialogue delivery fits the time period.  John’s son is a good person and you can see his character grow in the movie, at least a little.

tomor3This story was molded out of another one, a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson called Enoch Arden.  In the poem, Enoch goes off to fish at sea to provide for his family, in an obvious show of masculinity, just like John serving his country in Tomorrow is Forever.  Enoch is shipwrecked and spends many years on an island.  He returns home to find his wife remarried just like John, and is full of emotion.  He never reveals who he really is to his wife and dies of a broken heard.  The parallels between these two stories are exact.  

 Overall, I think this film is underrated.  It has classic Welles and Claudette Colbert does some of her best work.  It’s unfortunate that it copies Tennyson’s poem without giving appropriate credit to him, since he came up with the story in the first place, not Hollywood.  It’s a shame the movie doesn’t have a happier ending, but we can’t have everything.   It’s a little melodramatic here and there, but I didn’t mind.  One thing I know for sure is that Enoch Arden would be proud.