This post is doing triple duty in multiple ways. It’s a noir film review, a tick off my Cinema Shame 2018 list, and a comparative face-off — of three films, no less!
Cinema Shame: To be honest, I can’t remember at the moment how Tomorrow is Another Day (1951) ended up on my 2018 list. Perhaps a Twitter discussion or recommendation from a fellow blogger? Whatever the case, it was quite fortuitous to find Eddie Muller showing the film only days ago on Noir Alley for TCM. I enjoyed most of the film, particularly getting to see Steve Cochran in action as a lead rather than a one-dimensional crook. And I always like seeing Lurene Tuttle, whom I know mostly as Effie Perene opposite Howard Duff’s Sam Spade on the old radio show. I can’t say Ruth Roman’s performance was as excellent as her delectable smile, but she played the role of bad girl with a tiny heart of gold well, given the bad dialogue. The ending, as anyone who has seen the film will tell you, is horrid and beyond implausible. But then, the same can be said of Gilda (1946), right? Overall, I’d give it a moderate thumbs-up.
Face-off: Tomorrow is Another Day interests me most after a first viewing for its path along a familiar dark noir trajectory. So I decided I’d rather compare it to others like it rather than just writing an overview. For this post, that’ll be Detour (1945) and Where Danger Lives (1950).
All three of these classic noirs can be described as tales of (1) a well-meaning guy who (2) meets a bad girl and (3) becomes ensnared in her web; (4) crime ensues, (5) the pair must flee, (6) a crisis reaches climax, and (7) a somewhat unsatisfactory resolution results. So, which of these three does the best with the formula? Let’s find out…
(1) The well-meaning guy…
Detour: Tom Neal’s Al Roberts is the ultimate ill-fated everyman with a guilt complex. His hangdog expression never changes in the film, and he feels helpless to stop whatever fate has in store for him. But he doesn’t mean any harm! He just wants to play his piano and live happily-ever-after with the blonde singer that got away.
Where Danger Lives: Robert Mitchum’s Dr. Jeff Cameron is just your average hunky beefcake physician, saving lives, being swell to the kids in the children’s wing, and dating a selfless nurse — that is when he gets a break from his 48-hour shifts.
Tomorrow is Another Day: Steve Cochran’s Bill Clark gets out of the slammer after 18 years for a murder he very likely didn’t commit. All he wants is a slice or three of pie and a nice girl to kanoodle with. He’s equal parts naive, lonely, and full of 18 years of understandable frustration.
(2) …who meets the bad girl and (3) gets stuck in her web…
Detour: Ann Savage’s Vera is one cold dame. She’s both full of rage and dying of some unknown something, determined to get something out of life before it ends. She doesn’t bother being seductive; she just clamps onto a guy too nice for his own good and takes him for a ride.
Where Danger Lives: Dr. Jeff falls prey to the allure and hunger of Faith Domergue’s Margo Lannington. First, he saves her life after a botched suicide attempt; then, he gives up most of his own life to keep her in his. Of course, he also gets a concussion, else his brains might actually have kicked in and gotten him clear of the clearly psychotic Margo.
Tomorrow is Another Day: Ruth Roman’s Catherine “Cay” Higgins is hard as nails, and from the minute she meets Bill, she wraps him around her finger. After 18 years behind bars, he’s looking for a hook-up, but she’s got him buying her a gold-plated watch before she even remembers his name. She’s the typical femme fatale, complete with all the right curves, platinum hair (a much better wig than Stanwyck’s in Double Indemnity (1944), I must say), and a killer smile.
(4) A crime ensues…
Detour: It just so happens that Vera knows the salesman who died while a hitch-hiking Al was taking a turn driving his car. Paranoid he’d be arrested for murder when the guy just keeled over, Al idiotically hides the body and takes on the salesman’s identity, landing him neatly in Vera’s lap for blackmail.
Where Danger Lives: Margo wants what she wants, and that means lying to Dr. Jeff, identifying her husband as her father. Before hubby (Claude Rains) can tell Dr. Jeff all about his wife and her history of affairs (as well as mental illness), the two men are fighting over her. Dr. Jeff is knocked out with a poker, and hubs falls and hits his head.
Tomorrow is Another Day: Cay, we quickly learn, is bought and paid for by a jealous local police detective. When she returns home with Bill in tow, the cop pulls out a gun. Cay throws a plate to knock it from his hand and Bill gets it, but apparent PTSD from 18 years earlier has him dazed. This leaves the officer to knock him out, even as Cay scrambles for the gun, then shoots her copper sugar daddy before he can throttle her. He stumbles out, heading for a doctor, to deal with her later. And there’s Bill, unconscious and implicated.
(5) …so the pair hit the road…
Detour: Vera really doesn’t have much of a plan in mind, just to blackmail Al and get money and whatever creature comforts he can provide. They’re already on the road, but now they take assumed names and hold up at a hotel as Mr. and Mrs.
Where Danger Lives: As Dr. Jeff suffers from muzzyheadedness and pain, Margo drags him out of town and away from a likely accusation of murder, for it seems her husband’s fall has killed him. They head for the border as Jeff preaches doom and gloom about looming paralysis and death from his concussion.
Tomorrow is Another Day: Cay backs a suitcase, dyes her hair brown, and she and Bill head out. She lets him think he is the one who shot her provider as the two discover via radio that he has died. The two end up getting a ride from a family in the “lettuce trade,” with Dad picking, Mom packing, and little Johnny tagging along.
(6) …until the crisis reaches climax…
Detour: I confess I do adore the climax of Detour, in which Vera is tormenting Al by saying she is calling the cops on him, pulling the long-corded phone from the living area into the single bedroom in which she sleeps (while Al parks on the sofa). Panicked at the sound of her voice, feigning a call, he pulls on the cord, hoping to unplug the phone. Instead, the cord winds around Vera’s throat and Al unknowingly strangles her!
Where Danger Lives: Margo becomes increasingly panicky as Jeff becomes increasingly weak. She unleashes abuse, letting him know he was only one of many, that his weakness makes him worthless to her. She smothers him then flees their room for the bus to Mexico, leaving Jeff dead at her feet. But Jeff’s not dead! He stumbles out, calling her name as she heads for the bus, and the cops close in. Margo is shot; dying, she slumps against a chain-link fence.
Tomorrow is Another Day: As their lives together grows more loving and stable, there is still a truth Cay hides from Bill (now calling himself Mike): he didn’t shoot the detective, she did. A “True Crime” magazine identifies Bill as wanted by the police, complete with mug shots, and as the end looms, Cay finally confesses but Bill doesn’t believe her. When a cop comes to bring him in, Cay shoots Bill in the shoulder to keep him from killing the officer with a lettuce scythe!
(7) …and then we get a somewhat unsatisfactory resolution…
Detour: Al leaves Vera dead and heads back onto the open road. He knows fate will finger him sooner or later, and we watch as a police car picks him up. But is it for hitch-hiking, vagrancy, or murder?
Where Danger Lives: A coda shows us poor concussed Dr. Jeff at last on the mend. And the doctor tells his ex-girlfriend, the self-effacing nurse, that she can go in and see him.
Tomorrow is Another Day: As both Cay and Bill try to take the blame for the detective’s murder, the cops spew some babbling baloney about the True Crime magazine having put up Bill’s photo without permission and that the cops weren’t after them at all! It seems the dead man told his boss that he was the one who pulled the gun first, and the shooting was his fault. Somehow, this leads to our domesticated couple going free, ending the film as they walk down court steps with their loving arms around each other.
When I began this post, I truly didn’t know what I’d conclude. I like facets of each film. Cochran has charisma as Bill and Tom Neal inhabits Al like a method actor. Mitchum is Mitchum, but he doesn’t have much to play with. I adore Vera’s viciousness and enjoy Margo’s mania, while Cay is (for a while, anyway) a deliciously icy femme fatale. And all three films have their absurd plot twists as well as their enjoyable intensity.
That mostly leaves the endings as my ultimate deciding factor, particularly between Detour and Tomorrow is Another Day. I do hate the ending of the latter, which no doubt was changed for audiences instead of what we might expect (Cay kills Bill without meaning to then goes to jail, for instance). And I feel pretty similarly about the happy ending of Where Danger Lives. Ultimately, Margo is more psycho than spider woman, and Mitchum’s doctor should’ve known better from the start. (When a suicide tells you not to report it and she won’t do it again, that’s a good time to get her to a psychiatrist and walk away.)
By contrast, there is Detour and it’s wild denouement, with Al telling us that everything that happened to him was fated. He takes no responsibility for his bad choices, from chasing after a girlfriend who’d left him with no desire to marry and settle down to the accidental death of the salesman. And if he’d thought a little harder, he’d realize he could knock Vera out anytime and take the evidence she was using to blackmail him. Ultimately, Detour is simply going to stay with me a lot longer than Where Danger Lives or Tomorrow is Another Day.
THE WINNER: DETOUR