Saturday, April 28, 2018

TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY (1951)

Warner Bros., 90m 51s


A rightful favorite of film noir aficionados, TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY sympathizes with its featured protagonist from pillar to post. Alienated lead male characters are common noir sightings, but Bill Clark (Steve Cochran) stands out in the crowd. At the outset, the 32-year-old is about to be released from prison, where he has resided since the shockingly young age of 13. In other words, Clark has been behind bars throughout the years most of us treasure most. "18 years, three months and six days," Clark laments in explicit detail. The warden (Harry Antrim) tries to prepare Clark for the reality that life will be no cakewalk on the outside, where a generation has grown up without him. True enough, the newly free Clark notices plenty of change since his freedom as a youth. Cars have a new look, fashion has changed, beer tastes odd, and prices have gone up. A local proprietor has long passed. Worst of all, a predatory reporter (John Kellogg) wastes no time making an exploitative story out of Clark, who consequently has little choice but to move on.



Clark relocates to New York City, where a dance hall catches his eye. Inside he meets Catherine "Cay" Higgins (Ruth Roman, top-billed), who gets the proper legs-first femme fatale introduction (though she is glimpsed a little earlier, sizing up the new man in town Clark). The pay-for-a-dance girl Higgins looks and sounds like trouble, but Clark is lonely and convinces Higgins to be his big city tour guide. While the two enjoy the view of the city from above, Higgins expresses the common sentiment about film noir urban locales when she comments, "...you live in one trap and work in another." The modest trap she lives in is financed by Detective Lt. George Conover (Hugh Sanders), who surprises Higgins with his presence after she brings Clark inside her apartment for the first time. A tense discussion leads to a tussle that ends in a shooting, which impacts everything that happens subsequently for Higgins and Clark, who form an uneasy alliance.



From the instant Clark encounters Higgins, the confirmed film noir addict must assume this guy would be wise to look elsewhere for female companionship. Ensuing events after the apartment shooting seem to confirm this notion. In the film's dramatic turning point, Higgins realizes she knows more about the shooting than Clark, and can use that information to her advantage. As the camera closes in on the Higgins character in a terrifically cinematic moment, the viewer is encouraged to share the conflicting thoughts running wild in her mind. This is the moment film noir expert Eddie Muller refers to as "the break." The character under scrutiny has an opportunity to make a moral decision, but instead elects an immoral choice (and by implication, so do we). The fateful matchup of Higgins and Clark leads them to grueling work at a California lettuce farm, where they attempt to blend in under new identities (another noir staple). Of course, past transgressions very seldom go without consequences in the film noir, and a strong sense of paranoia builds within Clark as he questions his ability to merge into his surroundings.



Though perhaps not in quite the same league as THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1948) or GUN CRAZY (1950), TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY deserves to be in the same discussion of socially conscious couple-on-the-run treatments. Director Felix E. Feist understands how to create suspense, as he had proven beyond a doubt in THE DEVIL THUMBS A RIDE (1947) and THE THREAT (1949). Cinematography was handled by Robert Burks, who frequently collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock, i.e. STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951), REAR WINDOW (1954) and VERTIGO (1958). The highlight of TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY is probably the dancehall segment that comes early in the narrative, which is staged effectively to play up the appeal of the blonde temptress Higgins and the alienated loner Clark. A perhaps equally impressive sequence occurs when the couple hitches a ride on a trailer of new automobiles without the truck driver's knowledge. Not sure whether to credit Feist or the screenwriting co-authored by Art Cohn and Guy Endore (from a story by Endore) for the moment when Clark is listening to a radio announcer celebrate the achievement of Mozart before the composer reached the age of 14. For a man who was imprisoned at the age of 13, what a demoralizing thing to have to hear! In another interesting segment of social commentary, Higgins contrasts the dignity of working class people with prison life, where Clark never had to worry about his next meal. Clark questions how she could understand what it was like to be incarcerated, and whether firsthand knowledge might be forthcoming if she is not careful. Also of interest is the fact that redemption is found in an agrarian society, far from the impersonal city streets of New York.


Even if the conclusion seems wrapped up a little too neatly, it nonetheless reflects the film's optimistic title that suggests people deserve second chances. Neither Clark nor Higgins is a great catch, yet the two make one of the most compelling couples in the world of noir, a pair of down-and-outers who are impossible not to like. I really admire the fact that Clark is not driven by greed, like so many flawed noir protagonists. He just wants to get by on a day-to-day basis. Notable noir tough guy Steve Cochran turns in an impressive performance as a man in his early thirties who has spent the bulk of his life incarcerated. Here Cochran is far more sympathetic than he is in some of the other film noirs in which he appeared, such as THE CHASE (1946), WHITE HEAT (1949) and HIGHWAY 301 (1950). Especially for a man who was such a noted womanizer, Cochran's clumsy dance moves and bungled attempt to make a play for Roman's character are surprisingly convincing. I always have adored the talented Ruth Roman, whose subtle beauty in this case transfers from sexy blonde to unassuming brunette.


The MOD DVD available via Warner Archive presents a scan of film elements in acceptable but unspectacular condition, with artifacts persistent throughout the presentation. The aspect ratio of 1.35:1 differs slightly from the original theatrical scope of 1.37:1. This would be a splendid addition to one of several boutique labels who specialize in this sort of thing.

1 comment:

  1. I reviewed that title a while ago. While I liked it, I had real problems with the ending. That happy ending almost tanked the entire movie for me. Maybe I just like my Noir pitch-black.

    Cochran is great though and shows that he has a lot more range than just playing the tough guy. He was a better actor than most people gave him credit for.

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