How do you prefer your holiday schmaltz? Do you like it straight up, or do you mix it with a little soda water?
We’ve been mulling this over since we saw the 1940 holiday drama Beyond Tomorrow, a movie about finding fame and losing your soul, the rewards of self-sacrifice, and friendships that survive anything, including death.
If this sounds like every contrived theme in the movie playbook, wait – there’s more!
Let’s add an aw-shucks singing cowboy who’s naive to big-city ways; a young woman who teaches sick children; and three lonely, older men who desperately need friends.
This is sentimentalism as subtle as a line drive.
Charles Winninger, C. Aubrey Smith and Harry Carey are three older men who suddenly find themselves without guests to celebrate Christmas Eve. They decide to toss three wallets, each containing $10, into the snowy street to see who might return them. Those who do will be invited to dinner. “Win or lose,” says Winninger, “we dine at seven.”
Happily, the aforementioned singing cowboy (Richard Carlson) and the selfless carer-of-children (Jean Parker) arrive independently to return the wallets, money intact. As you might expect, it’s Love At First Sight for these two young people, and soon everyone becomes best of pals. They all live happily ever after.
Uh uh. Not so fast, dear Reader.
Sadly, the three older men are killed in a plane crash, and become ghosts sent to guide Carlson and Parker. But, lo! What’s this? While the men are delayed in cosmic ether, Carlson becomes a famous singer and falls into the clutches of a scheming Broadway celebrity (the fab Helen Vinson).
We can tell you’re rolling your eyes, and we don’t blame you. This sounds like the worst kind of treacle. Listen to some of these lines:
See what we mean? Even the New York Times sniffed, “[The] mystical peregrinations are more preposterous than moving.”
There is something about this film that sucks you in, despite all logic and sound reasoning. It’s not the best holiday movie ever made, but it still leaves you feeling warm and cozy, like a pair of hand-knit socks.
For example, Winninger’s character is unfailingly sunny and hopeful, and he never gives up on Carey’s acerbity. Parker’s noble, self-sacrificing caregiver is a champion next to Vinson’s shallow, spoiled Broadway star.
This movie is nothing but sentimental balderdash, yet it does, in its flawed way, inspire its audience. In 1940, the year this film was released, North America was clawing its way out of the Great Depression, and WWII was underway in Europe.
We don’t recommend you drop everything to watch Beyond Tomorrow (re-released in colour in 2004), but if you’re spending a snowy evening sipping a Tom and Jerry*, we think you’ll enjoy it.
*This movie features a once-popular holiday drink called a Tom and Jerry. It’s a rather fussy, high-calorie cocktail, but it sounds dee-lish.
Beyond Tomorrow: Harry Carey, C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Winninger. Directed by A. Edward Sutherland. Written by Adele Comandini. RKO Radio Pictures, 1940, B&W, 84 mins.