First, the bad news: as the above screen capture testifies, the image is soft. Sometimes softer than this. Acceptable, but soft, most likely from the source. Also, the French subtitles are not removable.
So. That's the bad news. And, on the other hand, this is an entirely watchable DVD of one of the most underseen classics of golden age American cinema, a movie that is as unusual today as it was on its 1937 debut, arguably the most perfect jewel in the auteur crown of the great Leo McCarey. Not to mention one of the most emotionally devastating films you are likely to see, ever. I'll admit that shortly after the playful moment recorded in the screen cap above—in which soon-to-separate couple Barkley "Pa" Cooper (Victor Moore) and Lucy "Ma" Cooper (Beulah Bondi) make to kiss, but demur because, it seems, of the camera's gaze—I started bawling like a baby and didn't stop until the end title some fifteen minutes later. And I've already seen the picture a couple of times.
McCarey—working, as was often the case in Hollywood at the time, from a second-generation adaptation (Vina Delmar's script is from a play by Henry Leary and Noah Leary, which in turn was from a novel by Josephine Lawrence—a novel that bears, incidentally, almost zero resemblance to this film)—treats two themes here: enduring love and the callousness of the young to their elders. The setup is as simple as death: Bark and Lucy, having made some missteps on the road to retirement, now have to abandon their home. They turn to their adult children (Thomas Mitchell, Ray Mayer and Minnie Gombell among them); they are first incredulous, later put-upon. Mitchell, in one of his best, most nuanced performances, gives oldest child George a lip-biting ambivalence; he wants to do the right thing, and takes in mother Lucy while the other children half-heartedly ponder arrangements for the ailing Bark, who's taking up the back room of a small grocery store in his home town.
McCarey doesn't soft-soap just how awkward a fit the somewhat doddering (or so it seems) Lucy is in the Manhattan household of George and his social-status-conscious wife and restless teen daughter. The viewer's slight irritation with Lucy only serves to amplify the empathy and affection that comes to take its place. The instances of callouness, missed communication, and self-delusion on the part of almost all of the characters build up to an inexorable conclusion: after fifty years of marriage, Bark and Lucy will be forced to live out the remainder of their lives without each other.
But this is unthinkable! And yet—well, I said the film was underseen, so if you haven't yet seen it, I don't want to, as they say, spoil it. By the same token, the writing, the acting, the directing all combine with such force that even were I to lay out everything that happened in prose, the actual impact of the film would not be mitigated by your knowledge. Orson Welles was right when he said this picture could make a stone cry.
But hey, everybody talks about that. But what makes Tomorrow such a resonantly human work is that it also brims with humor, as in the little meta-moment above. And there's also a great bit at the beginning. Lucy and her granddaughter Rhoda (Barbara Read) go to the pictures together, but Rhoda sneaks out for a date. She then returns to the theater and asks an usherette to summarize the picture for her so she can cover her tracks.
The usherette (Kitty McHugh, the sister of Frank—see the resemblance?) gives her the lowdown: "It’s the old gag about the guy that takes the blame for a job his pal done. The pal’s a rat and lets the nice guy go to the pen. But when he’s dying and the rat confesses and the boy and girl wind up…" She crosses her fingers. Rhoda asks, "Well...is it sad in any place?" The usherette considers. "Some of 'em cry when his dog dies." Rhoda rushes out, the usherette shouting after her, "There's a newsreel and Betty Boop!"
T'was ever thus.
This movie still awaits its definitive video version. In the meantime, this, available via French Amazon, will do.