We really don’t have time for this.
We’re on a tight schedule—I’ve got to wind down the careers of Joan and Olivia so we can say goodbye to the Dueling de Havillands in mid-December. Then we’ve got some Christmas and New Year’s films to round out the year before kicking off 2022 with a brand new series.
I don’t have time to circle back to From This Day Forward (1946), one of the least-known films from Fontaine’s young blushing bride period. It wasn’t nominated for any awards, and director John Berry’s name is mostly unknown today (his American career was put on hold for a decade when he was caught up in the communist blacklist of the 1950s.)
Fontaine herself gives it a mere two sentences in her autobiography. There’s not a single mention of it in any of my film history books—and believe me, I checked.
From This Day Forward left no lasting mark on the film world.
Like any good film writer, I tossed it on the cutting room floor and moved on to September Affair (1950).
And yet I just can’t leave it there.
I guess it left a mark on me.
So to hell with the schedule—let’s scoop it off the cutting room floor and take a closer look.
From This Day Forward tells the story of Susan (Fontaine) and Bill Cummings (Mark Stevens), a young married couple rebuilding their lives after his return from World War II.
Bill is scared—there are lots of men looking for work, and he’s worried there won’t be enough to go around. Bill isn’t looking for a fulfilling career or a dream job—he wants to put food on the table for his wife, and have enough left over to start a family.
He knows the strain of going without work—he was out of a job during the Depression, and though Susan’s work in a bookstore kept them afloat, he doesn’t want to go back there.
As he fills out forms and waits in the employment office, the film flashes back through the first years of his marriage to Susan.
The plot is simple enough—Bill and Susan marry, and spend a brief period of bliss together before Bill loses his job in the Depression. Money gets tighter and tighter, and just as desperation creeps in, he gets called up to fight in World War II.
A boy and a girl in love—fighting the odds, sticking together for better or worse, building a bridge out of poverty brick by brick through determination, loyalty, and steadfastness.
This one’s for the romantics among us.
The film is almost like paging through a scrapbook of Bill and Susan’s lives, and is elevated by small details and scenes that give it a touching sweetness—as when Susan grabs Bill’s hand as she runs up the stairs to introduce him to her sister before they are married.
Sometimes the film goes too far, as when Bill loses his job and his nephew offers to bring him a bone from the local butcher so that Susan can make broth and they won’t starve. The scene comes across as a bit over the top in its attempt to manipulate the audience’s emotions.
But there are two scenes that I just love, and that Fontaine and Stevens play perfectly.
The first is the day after their marriage—they can’t afford a honeymoon, so it’s back to work for both of them. At the end of the day, they race home to one another, embracing and laughing as if they hadn’t seen each other in years.
It struck so real and true to the heady early days of newlyweds.
And later, on the morning when Bill is set to leave for the army, they oversleep and wake up in a panic. Bill races around shaving while Susan tries to make him a quick breakfast, but she breaks the eggs and forgets to heat the coffee.
It’s an almost comic scene, until Susan wraps her arms around Bill and says, “Darling, what am I going to do without you?”
After he leaves, Susan wanders around the apartment for a moment and then the clock rings. Suddenly, she rushes to the window, throwing it open, uncaring of the rain that pours on her head.
Bill is too far down the street to hear, but she yells after him anyway, tears and rain streaming down her face.
“Bill. Come back, Bill! Listen, you gotta come back! Don’t you remember? We set the clock ahead last night on purpose. We set the clock ahead. We’ve got 15 minutes more, Bill.”
A moment that would melt a heart of stone.
Though Fontaine plays a young bride in love with her man through thick and thin, the role of Susan Cummings was a departure from seemingly similar characters in Rebecca, Suspicion, and Jane Eyre. Susan is not afraid of Bill, subservient to him, or an innocent pupil learning from an older, more experienced man.
They have a marriage of equals, one entered with eyes wide open.
On the day he proposed, Bill talked about how nothing was certain, that he couldn’t guarantee Susan’s happiness, but that she would make a beautiful bride. Susan counters that all brides are beautiful because they are young and innocent and life hasn’t kicked them around yet. No one knew the future.
“What are we waiting for?” she finally asks.
“Are you afraid?”
“So am I,” he says with a grin.
Life is full of ups and downs.
The worst marriages only make it harder.
But the best cut the pain, the loving and the knowing that you will have someone to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do you part.
As of the time of this writing, From This Day Forward is available on You Tube. If you give it a chance, drop me a line and let me know if this forgotten film got under your skin the way it got under mine.
Hallmark has nothing on these two kids.
Time stamps from the YouTube video for clips mentioned:
- Susan holds Bill’s hand to introduce him to her sister 8:59
- Reuniting after their first married day 26:30
- Bill oversleeps on his way to the army 1 hr 23 minutes
Want more? Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.
Do none of these characters have a symbiote? Is there an expanded universe?
My Halliwell’s has this, ‘effective sentimental realism’ ‘more memorable than it may sound’ is the blurb…and critic Richard Winnington ( cool name!) found it ‘distinguished …by irony, poetry and realism’ so you are not alone in digging this!
That’s good to hear it has some fans….’sentimental realism’ is the perfect phrase for it. Most of the reviews I came across were dismissive, and Fontaine herself called it a “trivial film” in No Bed of Roses.
When I started watching it, I was actually thinking it wasn’t going to be any good. It grew on me as it went on, but I still didn’t realize just how much I liked it until I found myself thinking of it days and weeks later. True mark of a film that’s wormed its way into a heart.
There is a bit more plot than I’ve outlined, and a cast of supporting characters including Susan’s boss, sister, and assorted in-laws. But it really does just focus on Bill and Susan…a romantic back-to-back us against the world sort of story. One I’m always a sucker for.