Target Dog

Photo by Scott Spedding from Pexels

My friend was driving through her neighborhood last week, and when she inched around a parked moving van, she got a little too close to a woman pushing a baby in a stroller.  She didn’t hit the woman, didn’t really even come close to hitting her, but it understandably startled the woman.

My friend—a kind and non-aggressive person—rolled down her window and apologized.  In response, the woman gave my friend two middle-fingers and hurled obscenities at her.

That’s one story of how people treat each other.

Here’s another.

Last week when I walked out of Target, a few clumps of people stood around watching something.  There was an electricity in the air, but I wasn’t afraid; it was an energy of excitement, not terror.

It only a took a moment to discover the object of everyone’s attention—a dog had gotten loose from his owner and was running around the parking lot.  I’m not a dog person, but a quick google search confirms that the dog in question was a brown and white English Springer Spaniel.

About two dozen people were trying to catch him, but he darted in and out of the cars.  He had a big doggie smile on his face, and it was clear he thought everyone was playing a game with him. 

He was having the time of his life.

And truthfully?  So were we.

No one was yelling at his owner, asking how she could let this happen.  We didn’t have time.

We were too busy whistling, calling him, offering bits of cheese.  We all wanted to be the hero who caught this fun, crazy dog.

The dog would start walking toward the whistle or cheese, and when he one step away from us, he’d turn and run away, still playing the game.

But as it went on, we began to worry.  This dog had no intention of being caught—he clearly had the stamina to do this all day.  And while we might have liked to continue chasing him as well, this was a busy parking lot, and the longer this went on, the more likely he was going to dart in front of a car that didn’t see him and get hit.

There was no way we—now a group over three dozen strong—were going to let that happen.

There was no spoken coordination, no captain, no leader yelling out orders.

Yet we began to make a wide circle to contain him.  A few of us got into our cars and intentionally blocked the aisles so no moving cars would drive down the lanes.

We moved in slowly, tightening the protective noose as the dog continued bounding around with joy, not knowing the game was about to end.

Eventually, we closed in and he had no way out, and his grateful owner finally got a hand on his collar.

The owner thanked everyone profusely, we breathed a collective sigh of relief, and you could see the dog’s thumping tail and practically hear him thinking that he couldn’t wait to come back to this awesome dog park with all these fun humans.

We’d all been inconvenienced, our days interrupted, yet no one got angry, no one shouted, or threw middle fingers, or even rolled their eyes.

We didn’t blame the dog—we didn’t assume bad intent on his part, or malice, or stupidity. 

He was in danger and didn’t know it, and we helped him, and all felt quite pleased with ourselves afterward.

If only we could always offer each other the grace we offered that dog.

Remake Rumble:  Father of the Bride (1950) vs Father of the Bride (1991)

When it comes to Father of the Bride, only the names have changed.

In the original, Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett play Stanley and Ellie Banks, proud parents of Elizabeth Taylor’s about-to-be married Kay Banks.

In the 1991 remake, Steve Martin and Diane Keaton revive the parents as George and Nina Banks, and Kimberly Williams-not-yet-Paisley-at-the-time takes on the role of young and blushing bride Annie.

Other than that, only the addition of color separates the films.

Both open on patriarch Banks, disheveled and collapsed in his easy chair, just after the last guest has left his daughter’s wedding reception.  Papa Banks removes his shoe and rubs his aching foot as he regales the horrific tale of his daughter’s wedding.

Papa Banks has one daughter—a daddy’s girl through and through—and the news of her engagement (to a boy who isn’t worthy of her, naturally) sends him reeling. 

Elizabeth Taylor, Spencer Tracy, Steve Martin, Kimberly Williams-Paisley

As Papa Banks narrates the events to the audience, he makes a loveable fool of himself throughout the rest of the film.  While his wife and the fiancé’s parents are unequivocally thrilled, Papa Banks howls that his daughter is too young to get married, and dismisses his wife’s reminder that she was the same age when she married him.

Having financial responsibility for the wedding, he demands cuts to the guest list, and blows a gasket at the price of the wedding cake.

Both feature scenes of the father of the bride trying to squeeze his now middle-aged body into a tuxedo that was the peak of fashion—twenty years ago.

And in both scenes, the daughter overacts to a silly fight with her fiancé and threatens to call off the wedding—for about five minutes, until the equally distraught fiancé arrives to apologize.  (In the original the fight is about his desire to go fishing on their honeymoon; in the remake it’s because he buys her a blender as a wedding gift.)

Papa Banks covers his terror of losing his daughter by grousing over the extravagance and cost of every detail, but ultimately bends to his wife and daughter’s wishes down to the last canapé.

And just like any film with a gooey center, he realizes in the end that (just like his wife assured him) it was all worth it, and that, “a son is a son ‘til he finds a wife, but a daughter is a daughter all her life.”

Two young brides…Elizabeth Taylor and Kimberly Williams-Paisley

Father of the Bride is a perennial favorite because even though he is an exaggerated figure, everyone knows a Stanley (or George) Banks.  A loveable curmudgeon who can’t quite grasp that the pigtailed daughter he once bounced on his knee is now a woman.  One who can’t accept that he will no longer be the man in his daughter’s life.  (Driven home in both films in a scene where the daughter dismisses her father’s advice that she wear a coat, then immediately acquiesces when her fiancé suggests the same.)

I prefer the original 1950 version, because I’m partial to old films, Spencer Tracy is more believable as a grumpy old dad, and the newer version veers unnecessarily into the absurd at points (as when Steve Martin falls into his future in-laws swimming pool, or spends the night in jail after causing a scene in a supermarket.)  Also, the over-the-top wedding planner played by Martin Sheen is similarly absurd and hasn’t aged well.

But these are nitpicks.  When it comes to the best version of Father of the Bride, the choice is truly yours.

Father with his own bride…Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, Steve Martin, Diane Keaton

It’s a story so universal and so beloved that it will likely be remade (virtually unchanged) for every generation to enjoy.  As of this writing, there are talks of a remake in development starring Andy Garcia in the title role.  Time will tell if this particular project makes it to the screen, but there’s no doubt that as long as there are daughters getting married, we will see Father of the Bride again.

I look forward to the next incarnation.

To see my thoughts on the original sequel, Father’s Little Dividend (1951), head on over to read my guest post this week at B&S About Movies.

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

Here’s What Happened

Patching the wall after the second incident…

Long time readers know that in addition to my weekly post on a classic film (don’t worry, the next one will be up this Wednesday as usual) I used to write a Sunday post about whatever was happening in my life.  I patterned these posts after the excellent weekly humorous essays by mother and daughter writing team Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella (who themselves cite Erma Bombeck among their inspirations.)

This June I stopped writing the weekly update without explanation.

I’m ready to tell you why.

I found another snake in my basement.

Savvy readers will take note of the word “another.”  Ten years ago I opened the door to my basement laundry room and found a six foot black snake making himself at home on top of my washing machine.

(And he left a nice long skin hanging from the ceiling that haunts me to this day.)

But that’s a story for another day.

On this day in June, I walked into the basement and saw a long black tail under the open door to the laundry room.

As I often imagine seeing snakes in my basement since the initial incident, I closed my eyes and shook my head to clear it.  When I opened my eyes, the tail was still there, but in a different position, and moving rapidly away from me.

I froze, mind racing with a single impulse:  I wanted to run back into the house, slam the door and pretend I hadn’t seen what I had seen.

Denial can be helpful for emotional problems.  Not so much for snakes in the basement.

I knew that if I didn’t stop him, things would go from bad to worse because he was heading right for the tiny alcove in the back of the basement beneath the stairs.  This area is dark, has low head room, and was packed to the gills with my overflowing pile of panic-bought pandemic supplies.

If he got in there, I would never find him.

He got in there.

He’s not in this picture, but imagine him shimmying across the top of those folded up boxes.

I immediately recruited reinforcements—my Mom and Dad, who hung up and hightailed it over as soon as I said the “S” word.  Then, I grabbed my neighbor, his wife, and their five-year-old son for backup.

My neighbor—as afraid of snakes as I am—came over with a golf club and a pooper scooper. 

He and my Dad tiptoed into the laundry room, searching for the snake with flashlights.  They found him, climbing across folded up cardboard boxes just out of reach.

After several minutes of panic induced strategizing, we decided on a game plan.  Dad and I carefully took the boxes away one by one.  Each time, the snake slithered deeper into the alcove.  But he was cornered, and if we moved all the boxes, he would have nowhere to hide and we could either sweep him out or pick him up.

And by “we” I meant my Dad.  Obviously.

We moved the boxes one by one, an inch at a time, trying not to scare him into further retreat.  This process took ten minutes but felt like an hour.  When we were down to nearly the last box, I knew that whatever happened, this would be over soon.

But that sneaky little snake had a wildcard up his sleeve.

Just when we were about to go in and get him, he found the tiniest of holes near the baseboard and disappeared into my basement wall.

This is when I lost it.

We waited, but he was no dummy—he wasn’t coming out.

While my Dad stayed behind to stand guard, I went to Lowes and bought snake traps, which we set up right outside the hole.

And I went to bed (not to sleep but to toss and turn) with that snake down in my basement wall.

After day two, it was clear he wasn’t coming out.  We were going to have to go in.

We blocked every exit, and my Dad cut a hole in the wall and we tore away insulation. 

No sign of the snake.

My neighbor’s son had the time of his life snake hunting.

The rest of us were exhausted.

I couldn’t write about it when it happened, and for awhile I couldn’t write about anything else.  I had to know how the story ended.  My laundry piled up, unwashed.  I was waiting.  The blog stalled.  I needed closure.

But like so much in life, I didn’t get closure.  Instead I got the passing of time, which heals more slowly and completely than anything else.

Because once you’ve torn a wall apart trying to solve your problem and coming up empty, you’ve got to find a way to move on.

I started throwing the laundry into the washing machine and then running back upstairs.  Then I began to linger longer and longer.

I still look for him, but I no longer do a ten-minute search with a spotlight before entering the laundry room.

To this day, I haven’t seen any sign of that snake.

But now I can talk about it.  I can laugh about it.  I can write about it.

The hiatus snake-atus is over.

In 2022, we ride again on Sundays.  I hope you’ll be here with me.

Unless I see another snake.

In that case, I’ll be hiding under my bed for good.

Remake Rumble:  The Shop Around the Corner (1940) vs. You’ve Got Mail (1998)

In the Remake Rumble, I’ll throw one (or more) versions of the same film into the ring and let them fight it out.  I’ll discuss the good and the bad, and end with the ultimate judgement of the best version.  Judgements can be appealed through well-reasoned arguments in the comments section.


Looking for more films to stoke that Christmas spirit? Check out these reviews from the archives:


For this week’s remake rumble, we begin in 1940 with The Shop Around the Corner, the Ernst Lubitsch directed romantic comedy starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as Alfred Kralik and Klara Novak, a manager and sales clerk at Matuschek and Company in Budapest. 

There’s no love lost between the two—Klara dismisses Alfred as a bowlegged dolt; he resents the way she wormed her way into a job on false pretenses. 

Alfred answers an advertisement in a newspaper to correspond with an unknown woman about literature and the arts.  By mutual agreement, they eschew the mundane in their letters, forgoing the humdrum details of occupation and hobbies to discuss Tolstoy and Shakespeare.  Alfred is the best version of himself in his letters—articulate, empathetic, and kind.  His pen pal is the same, and soon he is besotted by a woman he’s never met.

Eventually the two decide to meet, and even if you haven’t seen the film (or You’ve Got Mail), I don’t have to tell you who he finds when he arrives at the restaurant:  Klara Novak, the shopgirl he detests.

The film takes an interesting direction after his discovery—Alfred doesn’t reveal himself to Klara, and she is devastated at being stood up by the man she loves.  Yet because Alfred knows that Klara is the one writing the letters he so treasures, he sees her in a new light.  As he softens towards her, she sees a new side of him. 

Soon, Klara finds herself torn between real-life Alfred and the mystery man of her letters, not realizing they are one in the same.  When Alfred finally confesses, it is a wonderful relief to Klara, and we fade out on the lovers embracing on the floor of the shop in the quiet after the Christmas Eve rush.

The message is clear—the love of your life might be standing next to you in an elevator.  He or she might be annoying you half to death.

Such lovely ideals are the scaffolding on which all romantic comedies are built.

James Stewart is at home as Alfred, playing one of the polite nice guy roles that propelled his fifty year career.  We never doubt the sincerity of Alfred’s growing affection for Klara.  He’s not concealing the truth as a joke at her expense, but trying to work out a way to win her love in the world off the page.

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, who had a deft touch with comedies, including Ninotchka (Garbo’s first comedy), To Be or Not to Be (Carole Lombardi’s final film), and Heaven Can Wait, The Shop Around the Corner should be on everyone’s holiday wish list.

In 1998, Nora Ephron remade The Shop Around the Corner as You’ve Got Mail, now a classic romantic comedy in its own right.  Budapest is swapped out for New York, and Alfred and Klara are replaced by Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) and Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), rival booksellers.

Kathleen Kelly owns the local children’s bookstore The Shop Around the Corner (the name a nod to the original) opened by her deceased mother.  Joe Fox owns the massive chain Fox Books that threatens to put Kathleen out of business.

Instead of exchanging letters in a post office box, Kathleen and Joe meet in an internet chat room and correspond via e-mail.

You’ve Got Mail feels more dated than The Shop Around the Corner—perhaps because the way we interact online has changed so dramatically in the past two decades.  In a world where everyone has a dating site headshot and pictures of their last vacation online, the idea that two people could exchange anonymous emails and not realize they know one another IRL is unfathomable in a way that old time letter writing is not.

Ephron remained surprisingly faithful to The Shop Around the Corner.  Just as in the original, when Joe realizes that his pen pal is also his professional nemesis, he stands her up and tries to figure out a way to bridge the real-life divide between them.

So how to choose a winner between these set-at-Christmas-but-not-quite-Christmas-movie romantic comedy juggernauts?  Let’s break it down:

Lead Actor – I’m not the first to point out that Tom Hanks is the modern-day James Stewart, but it bears repeating.  They both bring a tenderness to the male lead and show his evolving change of heart.  Winner:  TIE.

Lead Actress – With no disrespect to Margaret Sullavan, there is no more charming person than Meg Ryan in the nineties.  WinnerYou’ve Got Mail

Director—When it comes to the romantic comedy, Nora Ephron stands alone.  WinnerYou’ve Got Mail

EndingYou’ve Got Mail wraps things up too quickly—it’s not quite believable that Kathleen would be unequivocally thrilled that the man she’s in love with destroyed her mother’s business.  WinnerThe Shop Around the Corner.

Since the breakdown is too close to call, I’m going with my gut.  Ephron’s classic does a better job of hammering home the point that we have a face that we show to the world, and a face that we wear when we’ve opened our heart.  While a comedy, You’ve Got Mail has some deeply emotional moments—as when Kathleen, who longs for a cutting comeback in conversation, finally comes up with one and feels guilty when she genuinely wounds Joe.  Or after the last day at her shop when she tells Joe (via email, not realizing it’s him) that closing the shop for good felt like her mother dying all over again. 

There’s a nice push and pull between holding onto the good of the past and embracing the new that shines through in You’ve Got Mail, and that raises it above its outdated technology.

You’ve Got Mail emerges the winner in this week’s rumble, but do yourself a favor this holiday season and make it a double feature with the timeless The Shop Around the Corner.

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

My Cousin Rachel (1952):  Third Oscar Be Damned!

Olivia de Havilland’s biographers are unanimous in their verdict that after her Oscar-winning turn in The Heiress (1949), Olivia de Havilland made the inexplicable error of turning down the role of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951).

Ellis Amburn dedicates an entire chapter in his biography questioning her Streetcar decision, noting:

“[Hedda] Hopper asked her [de Havilland] to explain why she refused to play…the best role of the century in the best play of the century.”1

But to say turning down Streetcar was a mistake is to completely miss the point.

For A Streetcar Named Desire was to be made at Warner Brothers.

Warner Brothers—still run by Jack Warner, who had bedeviled her since she was nineteen years old, forcing her to beg his wife for the opportunity to play in Gone with the Wind, then punishing her post-Wind by trying to work her to death.  Warner, who had hired lawyers to attack her as a spoiled actress during her lawsuit.  Warner, who had done everything in his power to permanently blackball her from Hollywood.

Though she was too classy to come right out and say it, hell would freeze over before Olivia de Havilland worked for Jack Warner again, third Oscar be damned.2

“I thought Vivien [Leigh] absolutely marvelous in the part,” she told biographer Victoria Amador in 2012.  “I have never regretted that I did not play Blanche.”3

I take her at her word.

So instead of taking the “part of the century” she made the gothic mystery My Cousin Rachel (1952.)

It’s 1838, and twenty-four year old Philip Ashley (Richard Burton in his first Hollywood film) is mourning the death of his cousin Ambrose, the man who raised him after his parents died when he was only a few months old.

Two years before his death, Ambrose left his home with Philip on the Cornish coast of England to seek better weather for his health.  While away, Ambrose marries Rachel, a woman Philip has never met.  Shortly before his death, Ambrose sent Philip a nearly incoherent letter that makes damning accusations against Rachel.  Though most of Philip’s confidantes believe the letter’s contents are the delusions of a man going mad, Philip wants revenge for Rachel’s part in his cherished cousin’s death.

He’s thrown for a loop when Rachel (de Havilland) arrives much younger—though ten years his senior—and far more beautiful than he expected.  His passion turns to lust and then a violent need to possess her.

The film is a game of cat and mouse—is Rachel guilty or not?  She certainly capitalizes on Philip’s desire for her, but is she a desperate woman with nowhere to go or a murderess looking for her next victim?

And Philip certainly gives Rachel reason to fear him.

The film is told from Philip’s point of view, and as he is forever tormented by the question of Rachel’s guilt or innocence, so are we.

It’s a good but not great psychological thriller that will have you wondering about Rachel’s motivations long after you’ve finished it.  (And don’t go looking for answers in the 2017 Rachel Weisz-Sam Claflin remake—you won’t find them there, either.)

And here, dear reader, is where we will pull the curtain on the story of the De Havilland sisters. 

Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine continued to work in film throughout the fifties and sixties, before turning mostly to television.  Both were still appearing onscreen in the 1980s.

Joan Fontaine is a legend of old Hollywood, the only actor in a Hitchcock film to win a best acting Oscar, and gave the world the forever gift of her perfect portrayal of the second Mrs. DeWinter in Rebecca (1940).

Olivia De Havilland leaves behind her legacy of Melanie Wilkes, two Oscars for Best Actress, and the DeHavilland Decision, a law still cited today.  Jared Leto’s rock band used the law in 2009 to gain more money for their music, and Leto met De Havilland in 2010 to thank her for her courageous fight against the studios.

And as for the their lifelong feud?

They stopped speaking to one another for good in 1975 after their mother’s death.

In happier times: Mother Lilian, Joan Fontaine, Olivia de Havilland

But there’s one final plot twist.

In 2017, the FX series Feud told the story of the feud between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.  In it, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Olivia de Havilland calls Joan Fontaine a “bitch.”

De Havilland so strongly objected to word “bitch” being used about her sister that at the age of 101 she sued the creators of the show, but this time she lost her legal fight.

The line between love and hate is never thinner than between sisters who don’t get along.

Notes

  1. Amburn, Ellis. Olivia de Havilland and the Golden Age of Hollywood
  2. Olivia de Havilland did not return to the Warner Brothers studio for 35 years. In 1975 she starred in The Swarm, after Jack Warner had retired.
  3. Amador, Victoria. Olivia de Havilland: Lady Triumphant.

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

Born to Be Bad (1950):  Love of the Grift

Joan Fontaine, Joan Leslie, Zachary Scott

By nearly every account—most especially her own—Joan Fontaine offscreen was miles apart from the naïve and adoring women she often played onscreen. 

Biographer Charles Higham (admittedly not the most reliable biographer, but that’s a story for another day) found her, “relaxed, super sophisticated, brittle, unromantic, and pagan,” as well as, “flippant, cool, tough, and somewhat offhand.”1

During the filming of Born to Be Bad, she was in the midst of her second divorce, the most acrimonious of her eventual four.  Though she was ultimately dismissive of all four of her husbands, William Dozier was the one who bit back the most in public.

“Joan would be smiling and charming and then there would be a barb,” Dozier said. “Finally, she lost one friend after another.  She’s the kind of woman who inevitably ends up alone.”2

As if proving his point, nearly twenty years later Fontaine would give the following quote to the London Daily Express while still married to Alfred Wright, eventual ex-husband number four:

“Obviously a wife has to do a lot of pretending to be successful; to make a difficult, selfish husband of hers feel that he is the greatest man alive even when she knows damn well that he isn’t.”3

Perhaps that’s why she was attracted to the role of Christabel Caine in Born to Be Bad, a woman who pretends to be innocent and sweet to lure unsuspecting men into her web of deception and discards them once they’ve served their purpose.

Zachary Scott, Fontaine

Christabel Caine arrives in San Francisco to attend business school and take over for her uncle’s secretary Donna (Joan Leslie), who is about to marry.  (Remember, reader—this is 1950.  There’s no need for a plot device to explain why Donna couldn’t possibly continue working after becoming the wife of a wealthy man.)

Donna is efficient, good-natured, and in love with fiancé Curtis Carey (Zachary Scott), who has come by his wealth through family money but is down-to-earth and kind.  She agrees to host Christabel while the final wedding preparations are made.

Christabel’s uncle has described her as a young woman looking for honest work and a place in the world after spending months taking care of an elderly aunt.

Her uncle is the first—but not the last—man she’s snowed.

Christabel has an entirely different agenda—she means to replace Donna as the rich wife of Curtis Carey, not as her uncle’s secretary.

The film—and the audience—delights in Christabel’s ruthless machinations as she expertly plants the seeds that will lead to mistrust and the ultimate destruction of Donna and Carey’s relationship.

There’s a slight fly in the ointment—while Christabel’s plan is unfolding, she falls in love with Curtis’ friend Nick Bradley (Robert Ryan).  She tries to have it both ways, luring Curtis into marriage while having an ongoing affair with Nick.

And ends up losing them both in the end.

Robert Ryan, Fontaine

But even then, it’s clear that Christabel’s true love is the grift itself, and we are left with no doubt that in losing a husband and gaining a fortune, the now rich divorcée has gotten exactly what she wanted.  And lover Nick, for whom she had genuine affection?

Well, every war has collateral damage. 

Born to Be Bad is entertaining, and has the advantage of being made in 1950, when the production code was breaking down and allowed Christabel’s moral crimes to go unpunished.  In fact, the film ends with a satisfying wink to the audience, letting us know that Christabel will have no trouble finding her next mark.

We’re only sorry that we won’t be able to watch her put the poor sap through the ringer.

Notes

  1. Higham, Charles.  Sisters:  The Story of Olivia De Havilland and Joan Fontaine.
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. Ibid

Full Sources

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

Guest Posting with B&S About Movies

Lynn Bari and Vincent Price in Shock (1946)

Today I have the great pleasure of guest posting over at B&S Movies as part of their Mill Creek Drive-In Classics Box Set Review.

Head on over to see my review of Shock (1946), a film noir and the first starring role for Vincent Price. Please leave your comments over at B&S Movies, and if you’re new to their site, take a look around. They’re a great resource for all things horror films.

From This Day Forward (1946):  Off the Cutting Room Floor

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?”

“Yes, Bill.”

“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.

Notes

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.