There’s Always Tomorrow (Douglas Sirk, 1956)
Of the many aspects of the films of Douglas Sirk’s that define his signature there’s obviously the colourful visuals, his use of few means, melodramas, plot lines scratching just enough the boundaries of moral conservatism in the American society, and deep symbolism in his mise en scène.
With There’s Always Tomorrow, a black and white melodrama of the 1950’s, Sirk attacks the nuclear family values and demonstrates how the perfect little American family of the 1950’s can be heading towards a wall when the father and husband seems to be bringing his paycheck and be his only use within the family. This man is portrayed by Fred McMurray and from this point of view he will get back in touch with an ancient colleague and slowly get interest for the woman (Barbara Stanwyck) that gives him back what he needs in his own house : attention and being recognized as a man with feelings more than just a father and a husband in title.
Sirk’s approach is to give to the viewer the feeling that McMurray is the perfect husband and father that thinks of attention for his wife and ask for a night out alone together on her birthday. When minutes later, a stranger knocks on the door he wears the apron and eats alone at the table. He looks miserable and almost castrated by his loneliness in this big house that everyone left. This stranger is the woman that he will eventually fall in love with. As immoral as it seems, for a film of the 1950’s, the way that Sirk presents the facts is similar to his All That Heaven Allows where Rock Hudson is the young gentleman that falls in love with an older widow. Those are not shocking elements for the modern day viewer but with the code Hays and the censorship for morality, Sirk handled those difficult subject and presented them as if the man of the family is the one abandoned and not that he leaves his family to get away with another woman. He makes us accept those behaviors that could be designated as not suitable for audiences of America.
The ending of the movie is quite intriguing and also it demonstrates all the deepness of Sirk’s storytelling and how he was able to lead his viewers in places they never thought of. It is a virulent critic on the way we live our lives in North America, how for some people the nuclear family and the conformism can be asphyxiating and denaturing for human beings.