Tomorrow Is Forever completely ignores any worries about coincidence piled atop happenstance heaped upon chance and hefts around its wildly unbelievable story with an Orson Welles-sized assurance only a classic old movie could have.
Welles plays John, a young dude who decides to go off and fight in World War I. Claudette Colbert is his wife, Liz, who waits for him to come home and once the armistice is announced in November of 1918 she gets all giddy with excitement that John will be home by Christmas, but she gets a telegram saying that John had been killed in action.
After she gets back to work from lunch (people sure were dedicated to their jobs back then!) she promptly faints. It turns out that not only is she overcome by grief from the loss of her true love, she is also preggers!
Her boss at the chemical plant, (George Brent from The Old Maid and The Great Lie) has always had eyes for her and takes the opportunity to take her in and nurse her back to health. (Well, it really was his old maid aunt that did it, but he asked her to.)
Even though she will always love John, her boss Larry gets her to marry him and raises John’s son as his own, never telling young Drew that his real daddy was killed in the Great War.
And it’s a good thing that they don’t tell him that because they’d all be lying dogs if they did! See, what the surface-happy Larry family doesn’t know is that John was just wounded really bad. His face was shattered, but more importantly than that, his spirit was shattered. He knows that if he came back all gimpy and ugly that his lovely wife’s life would be ruined forever, so he lets everyone thinks he’s dead while some Austrian doctor fixes him up with a new face.
Even though John has made this sacrifice for her own good (at least in his mind), war again is rearing its ugly head in Europe and if anyone knows that war sucks ass, it would be John, so he hightails it out of Austria back to the good ole U.S. of A.
Somehow when he makes his triumphant return, he has now become Dr. Kessler, Austrian chemist, complete with cheesy looking beard and hair, limp, accent, and Natalie Wood! Kessler ends up in the same city as he and Liz were from and against all the odds in the whole universe also ends up working for Larry!
Next thing you know Larry is inviting Kessler out to his house to meet the family! When Kessler sees that Larry has gone and married his wife, he is a bit surprised to say the least.
Now then, I mentioned that there just so happened to be another world war getting fired up and guess who is now old enough to go and fight in it? Why Drew of course, but Liz has some problems with Drew wanting to go and get killed in a European war, just like her John did.
It isn’t long before Kessler figures out that Drew is really his son. It also isn’t long before Liz starts to suspect that this handicapped Austrian guy hanging out with Natalie Wood is really Orson Welles slumming in an effort to raise money for his real movie projects.
As unbelievable as all of this is, the ending is even better and features Kessler chasing after Drew who is trying to go Canada to join the RAF and bringing him back home and then convincing Liz that she needs to let the boy go and that she needs to forget their past together and stay with her family and then Kessler catches a cold and dies!
But wait! Liz then has to adopt little Natalie Wood for Kessler!
I like to think that at some point, enough crazy crap goes on in this that it crosses over from lots of coincidences into pure destiny. Questionable make-up job aside, Orson is able to get it done in this one, playing the haunted guy changed by unspeakable tragedy while Claudette’s sadness that lingers just below the surface of her placid home life is likewise very credible.
Tomorrow Is Forever has a bit of a film noir feel to it, what with the whole “returning soldier trying to reintegrate himself into his old normal life” angle. This time, it just happens to be from World War I, but like all great noirs, John is handcuffed by fate (though one he had quite a hand in since he decided not to come back which quite frankly smacks of being really selfish) and is never able to regain what he lost and gave up two decades before.
I suppose he redeems himself to some extant since he is able to play father figure to Drew when he needed it most and is able to finally free Liz from his memory by babbling incoherently to her about the past and the future and somehow managed to work in the title of the movie.
Her conversion from being obsessed with John to liking her second-best husband was really fast and not at all convincing, but by this time it seems a bit silly to start complaining that the movie doesn’t really resemble reality, since the whole thing played like some romantic daydream where there’s all this nobility in suffering and denying your heart’s true desire.
It’s a wholly contrived affair designed to push your emotional buttons, but does so with an A-list cast and with great aplomb. When it’s all said and done, you’ll finally realize that love means never having to drop your Austrian accent no matter how much Claudette Colbert cries and pleads for you to admit that you’re really her long lost husband!
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