There’s Always Tomorrow

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Compared to the other films that director Douglas Sirk directed for producer Ross Hunter at Universal Pictures There’s Always Tomorrow (1956) is one of the more overlooked. Sirk, whose films of the fifties focused on the oppressive nature of the middle class on women, turns his critical eye towards the middle class male. There’s Always Tomorrow looks at how a routine and societal expectations numb and blind Fred MacMurray’s everyman to the love and value he has in his life.

There’s Always Tomorrow isn’t only about a man disillusioned with his marriage, family and job. It’s also about Barbara Stanwyck’s fiercely independent career woman who has had to suffer loneliness and ridicule for opting to be more than a housewife. As he (a man not unlike the robot toys he makes) seeks her (his old flame who left him to be more than a wife) they are each confronted with how society has corrupted them emotionally. Both man and woman in There’s Always Tomorrow are victims of a system that they are helpless to change. Sirk ends the film with each character in their own spheres (he at home with wife and children while she flies overhead in a jet) willing themselves to settle for what they have rather than fight for what could or should be. The title suggests the general philosophy of the characters. Each of them is so conditioned to the status quo that their own individual needs can wait for that ever elusive tomorrow.

In There’s Always Tomorrow Barbara Stanwyck plays the inverse of her role in Sirk’s earlier feature All I Desire (1953). The earlier film looks at the same social structure (the nuclear family) but after rather than before adultery and divorce occur. In There’s Always Tomorrow it is Stanwyck who who plays the part of the “other” though she retains her desire for independence in both films. This independence and self-reliance is what makes both Stanwyck characters dangerous to the institutions that dominate the structures of both films. It is always the children (Stanwyck’s in the first and MacMurray’s in the second) who vilify and ultimately condemn the happiness of all women who do not conform to society’s vision of a model mother and house wife.

Sirk reflects the oppressive nature of the nuclear family unit by breaking MacMurray’s house down into a series of small, shadowy spaces that characters navigate in manic fits. These small rooms cannot contain the desires or emotions of either the father or his family. But when MacMurray is with Stanwyck spaces open up with beautiful sceneries in the background as if potential happiness were just beyond the horizon. Likewise MacMurray’s teenaged children, out for their father’s blood, move in a small group with a frustrated rhythm. They bicker and they swarm like a mob totally unaware of their complicity in enforcing the status quo upon the adults around them.

Sirk’s view of adults as helpless and compromised individuals saddled with cruelly narcissistic children is a constant in all of his American melodramas. It’s a testament to Sirk’s abilities as a subtle social commentator that There’s Always Tomorrow was released this way. There are nods to a superficial optimism but Sirk’s profound disillusionment with the American middle class drowns out the obviously more marketable aspects of the film.