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Deck the Halls December: Beyond Tomorrow (1940)

It's December, the time of year when the whole world gets nostalgic. There is no better time to watch classic movies with a Christmas theme. Join Rodney and Adam as they discuss Beyond Tomorrow.

RODNEY BOWCOCK: Beyond Tomorrow is one of those tales that were briefly popular in days of yore where angels step in to alter the lives of mere mortals. As you would expect with us viewing the film in December, it has a slant toward the holidays, which is particularly cheerful. The film opens with three old gentlemen, engineers by trade, wrapping up some work before closing shop before Christmas. Well, one of them is. The other two take some convincing. These three are played by C. Aubrey Smith, Harry Carey and Charles Winnenger, and these familiar faces are nice to see for sure, at least if you’re the kind of guy who is comforted by seeing the same actors over and over in your movies (and I am definitely that kind of guy).

Three old ghost codgers.

ADAM WILLIAMS: The opening montage sets the festive mood quite nicely. Bells are ringing, everything is festooned with tinsel, and gifts are abundant as superimposed snowflakes dot the layered shots. The three old codgers occupy a mansion with beautiful woodwork and a cozy fire. It’s impossible not to feel warmth emanating from this set up…

RB: The idea gets floated that in order to get some people to spend the holidays with them, the three gentlemen will each toss a wallet with a $10.00 bill and a business card into the snow. If someone finds and returns the wallet, they get invited to Christmas dinner. Enter Richard Carlson and Jean Parker, the two recipients who have the decency to return what isn’t theirs. Carlson is a budding singer and Parker works at a children’s clinic.

Richard Carlson sings!

AW: I must interject that Richard Carlson’s Texas accent—and especially his singing—really threw me for a loop. He’s the quintessential affectless protagonist, protector against commies and lagoon-dwelling creatures alike. I just wasn’t prepared for this side of Carlson.

RB: Around here may be the point where you think you’re in for a classic Hollywood ‘Meet Cute’ sort of film. I did, and I loved it. But that’s not where this movie goes at all. See, before long, these three old gentlemen die in a plane crash, and that’s where the plot really takes shape.

Jean Parker

This is where the movie falls apart for me. I don’t think it’s the fault of the film, I just simply wasn’t a fan of watching these three angels trying to change the direction of the lives of the young couple that they had befriended. There is something heartening about watching them trying desperately to make these people not make the same mistakes that they had made in their lives, but it ultimately falls flat for me. The film was capably directed by A. Edward Sutherland, a man who had helmed other movies that I like far more than this one, like Murders in the Zoo and One Night in the Tropics.

AW: It’s all a bit high concept, isn’t it? What could have been a pleasant screwball comedy gets bogged down by the silly superimposition ghost effects and platitudes about the great beyond. Thankfully, the official guide to writing sentimental movies insists that a handful of nonsensical gags be peppered throughout the script lest the audience be washed away by their own tears. One entirely unessential moment in this film distracted me enough to take note: some random yokel approaches the admitting nurse at the hospital and asks if he can see his wife. “Not if she’s over 9 years old. This is a children’s hospital!” the nurse snaps back. Befuddled, the yokel scampers off. Anybody that watches Westerns, either of the B or A variety, will recognize the bewildered man as character actor Hank Worden. The woman playing the nurse is much more obscure. Gertrude Sutton made a career playing thankless roles, mostly maids, harried mothers, and spinsters. Hal Roach employed her as a maid (soon to be usurped by Stan) in Another Fine Mess and Alfalfa’s mother in Sprucin’ Up, to give two examples. Her most widely seen moment in movies is in King Kong. She’s the unlucky one that the ape snatches out of a peaceful sleep and tosses to her death out of the high rise.

Bit players Hank Worden & Gertrude Sutton.

E.B. Radcliffe of The Cincinnati Enquirer wrote that Beyond Tomorrow, “…has a quality of artificiality about it that reminds one of pink lemonade at the circus.” Donald Kirkley of The Baltimore Sun had a more acute response to the film’s sugary content. He described the story as “…a curious mixture of romantic hokum and ghost story, which fails to score in either aspect.” Of the supernatural angle, he writes that the ghosts, “…just stand around in a transparent condition and make commonplace remarks.” He calls the romantic angle, “ of the hoariest wheezes in pictures…” The New York Times’ Bosley Crowther enjoyed the opening, “…told with a gamin tenderness and warming as a hot toddy…” but lost interest when the ghosts appeared. “Even a hot toddy wears off when one travels into the chilly interstellar spaces,” he concludes.

The movie veers into interstellar spaces.

The reviews weren’t all bad. In fact, this movie transformed Mae Tinee’s entire demeanor. In her inimitable, proto-blogging style, The Chicago Tribune critic wrote, “Saturday I wasn’t very happy. On account of the movie I had to review, I mean. Sundaywell—? But TODAY, Ah! Hoss of another color, COMplete!” She loved this “original and delightful” movie.

Like pink lemonade or a hot toddy, Beyond Tomorrow can play havoc on your brain chemicals. Your mileage may vary.

RB: At the end, I rate this film three stars, not because I particularly enjoyed it (I didn’t), but because it was capably directed and structured with some decent special effects. It’s a well made film, that just doesn’t set itself up to my taste. That’s ultimately on me. The film is in the public domain, so if you choose to seek out this film, please note that it’s available in about 30 versions that range from watchable to looking like it was shot through a screen door. There’s also an edited, colorized version retitled Beyond Christmas that doubtlessly should be avoided unless you’re the special kind of masochist that enjoys seeing films butchered in such a way, although I’ll never understand why that may be the case.

AW: I highly recommend this movie…if you need a good nap. Seriously, this movie is like an ASMR video to help you sleep. Put it on, enjoy the opening, and let the overly dark image and muddled audio lull you to slumberland. I have no ill will towards the movie, it just left very little impression. Two stars.

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I watched this film a few seasons ago and I also liked this film better then you two fellows. I recalled that Maria Ouspenskaya was the housekeeper, who's always a fun draw. What I didn't recall until looking at the credits now is that Rod La Rocque was in it along with Helen Vinson. I think now I recall the Vinson role as the woman who doesn't give back the wallet but I don't remember who Rod played. But what I didn't know then was that I now know and recognize Richard Carlson after seeing him a couple of months ago in TOO MANY GIRLS made the same year and just two nights ago in a thankless role in…

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Samantha Glasser
Samantha Glasser
10 Δεκ 2021

I like this movie much more, mostly because of the charm of the beginning portion, which is so delightful that I can forgive the meandering end. This is one of those movies that would benefit greatly from a good restoration.

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