Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Joan Bennett star in a Douglas Sirk movie? I am THERE. I was a bit disappointed that it’s in black and white, given the amazing things Sirk does with colour, but it may be to the story’s benefit. If I’m not mistaken, There’s Always Tomorrow is more low key than Sirk’s best known films, and this lays the social criticism bare.
Clifford Groves (MacMurray) owns a successful toy company and spends his life working to provide for his wife Marion (Bennett) and their three children. Despite everything he’s done for them, however, none of them seem to have time for him, and his life feels rote and pointless. When old coworker and friend Norma (Stanwyck) reappears on his doorstep, Clifford longs more and more to escape his middle-class American dream.
Despite the lack of colour, TAT’s blocking and staging exemplifies Sirk’s signature style. Screens, stairs, posts, and windows enclose and separate the characters, signifying their barely contained emotions. The suburban home becomes the cage that Clifford feels it to be.
More wooden actors could have drained the life out of these characters, but the leads play their roles genuinely. MacMurray is the film’s heart, and Stanwyck is its head. Clifford stays likeable and relatable, while Norma’s understanding of the situation, and all the people involved, is refreshing and incisive. Bennett, in a fairly thankless role, makes the audience frustrated with Marion yet still, perhaps, envious of the certainty that comes with her complacency. These leads even had me believing in the ending, despite the fact that we should never stop at taking things at face value where Sirk is concerned.
Though TAT is, of course, of its time, the turmoils it shows are still relatable—just not necessarily in such gender-specific ways. The cultural ideal of having a large house, a marriage, children and money to spare still endures. It comes with no guarantee of happiness or meaning, however, and we all have paths that will never, and can never be taken. TAT is full of the melodrama’s near-foolish coincidences and ironies, but its themes play out thoughtfully, and movingly, in black and white.