Larry Stevens (Dick Powell) is celebrating his golden wedding anniversary tonight, and his whole family are there to greet him and his wife Sylvia (Linda Darnell), but something seems amiss – the couple are arguing. Surely not, but there definitely sounds to be a disagreement, all about Larry revealing a secret, in fact the secret that brought them both together, and Sylvia warns him not to reveal it since she thinks nobody will believe it anyway. What could it be? It’s something to do with the newspaper he is holding, not a recent one but a printing from fifty years before – he made his living as a journalist way back when, and a certain news story penned by himself got him into all sorts of trouble…
By 1944, French director René Clair had been in Hollywood for a few years after making his name internationally with his brand of sharp-edged whimsy, but with the Second World War raging back home it didn’t look likely he would be able to return to his beloved France. Nevertheless, it is that handful of Hollywood works he made during that era that he is perhaps best known for, though the purists may tell you his best material came before the conflict sent him into exile, those groundbreaking silents and the thirties efforts that he made with sound, albeit reluctantly for he had truly enjoyed the style of the silent movie. Come the point he was making It Happened Tomorrow, he had long been used to employing dialogue.
This was one of a number of fantasy films from around this decade when thoughts were turning to the supernatural and otherworldly forces, only understandable when you were aware of the enormous loss of life that sent so many pondering the great beyond. But this wasn’t one of those afterlife comedies, unless the years leading to the Stevens’ anniversary counts as life after death, which in a way it was, a reassurance in its manner that no matter how dire things seemed just now there was always a very good chance that the world would survive and it would all be fine for the good folks of this reality. But there was always the threat that another reality would find its way into the one we are familiar with: Clair’s whimsy at work again, thanks to a source by famed author of fanciful tales Lord Dunsany.
So what was the deal with Larry’s experience that was so outrageous that nobody would believe it? It was to do with the newspaper business, for when we head off into flashback around the turn of the century and his office where he is graduating from penning the obituaries to being a proper journalist (though obit writers may balk at not being considered proper journalists as insinuated here). The oldest employee there is Pop Benson, and as Larry and his fellow scribes celebrate, he gets to chuntering about the possibility that he can tell the future since news is always news, be that past, present or future. Pop was played by John Philliber, an actor who had spent his career on the stage but for some reason in the last couple of years of his life took to making film appearances, of which this was the most memorable.
Memorable because Pop seems to be some paranormal figure, maybe an angel, maybe some guardian from beyond our ken, but whatever he hands Larry a newspaper from tomorrow and sends our hero’s life into turmoil. Initially he thinks he can capitalise on having the future in his hands and writes up a theatre robbery, but it merely makes him a suspect, with the phony clairvoyant Sylvia who he has recently asked out his only hope of release from cop Edgar Kennedy’s clutches. Incidentally, if you wanted to see a whirlwind romance was this a movie for you: within twenty-four hours of meeting, Larry has proposed to Sylvia and soon they are married, though considering this was Linda Darnell in her prime we were talking about you could understand Larry’s enthusiasm. Jack Oakie was there too as the other half of the psychic act, ramping up the broad comedy to match Powell’s rather brash persona, but as befitting the war years the message was to seize the moment for you just never knew what would in fact happen tomorrow, and it was better that you didn’t for too much foreknowledge could ruin your life. In Clair’s hands, this bit of fluff had some resonance, not a tremendous amount but enough for texture in a sweet, slightly silly fantasy. Music by Robert Stolz.
Imaginative French writer and director, a former actor, whose whimsy could be tempered with sharp wit. He gained attention in the 1920s with the classic science fiction short Paris Qui Dort, but come the sound era his musicals Le Million and A Nous La Liberté won him more and more fans. He moved to Britain for comic fantasy The Ghost Goes West, and to Hollywood for I Married A Witch, It Happened Tomorrow and classic Agatha Christie adaptation And Then There Were None. When the Second World War ended, he returned to France to make films including Les Belles de Nuit.