Acclaimed cinematographer Lee Garmes (Shanghai Express, Nightmare Alley, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) varied his Oscar winning career with producing and directing credits. In 1940 he co-produced with Oscar-nominated (Three Smart Girls, Christmas in Connecticut) writer Adele Comandini, a screenplay adapted from her original story called Beyond Tomorrow. It is a lovely little film directed by A. Edward Sutherland (The Flying Deuces, One Night in the Tropics, Mississippi) that has found its share of fans through television screenings during the Christmas holiday season. The film was colorized in the early part of this century and released by Twentieth Century Fox as Beyond Christmas, perhaps in an effort to heighten its appeal. I don't know if this has been successful because I have noticed that there seems to be a proliferation of made-for-TV romantic comedies with "Christmas" in the title and this old-fashioned charmer might be getting lost in the shuffle.
Harry Carey, Maria Ouspanskaya, Charles Winninger, C. Aubrey Smith,
Richard Carlson, Jean Parker
The stars of Beyond Tomorrow are all familiar and favourite actors to film buffs. We are introduced to three wealthy and successful engineers who are partners in a business and roommates in a rambling New York City mansion. Michael O'Brien is the heart of the group as played by Charles Winninger (Show Boat, State Fair, Destry Rides Again). Allan Chadwick is a lonely widower played by C. Aubrey Smith (And Then There Were None, Five Came Back, Another Thin Man). George Melton is the cynic of the group, a man acquitted of a crime that the audience can only guess about, and he is played by Harry Carey (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Angel and the Badman, So Dear to My Heart). Their housekeeper is a former Russian Countess, Madame Tanya played by Maria Ouspenskaya (Love Affair, The Wolf Man, Kings Row). The words may be unspoken, but through their actions we see that this is a household of affection and kindness.
Jean Parker, Richard Carlson
When Christmas Eve guests beg off at the last moment, warm-hearted Michael comes up with a plan to fill their lives with new and interesting people. The three gentlemen toss wallets containing $10 and a business card into the snow and see what the bait returns. Pessimist George scoffs at the idea. His is the first wallet found by a sophisticated entertainer who gives the money to a taxi driver and tosses the wallet away. Her companion notes that she is very generous with other people's money. Michael's wallet brings their first guest of the evening. James Houston is a cowboy who came to the city months ago to appear in a rodeo and is now down on his luck. Honest enough to return the wallet and money, the group takes a liking to him and convinces him to share a holiday meal. Richard Carlson (The Little Foxes, All I Desire, Creature from the Black Lagoon) plays Houston. The stage trained actor and writer made an appealing film debut in 1938s The Young in Heart, and after service in WW2 would find work in television and the sci-fi craze of the 1950s. Allan's wallet is returned by Jean Lawrence, a social worker played by pretty Jean Parker (Little Women, The Ghost Goes West, Black Tuesday). The artistic Ms. Parker, who painted and designed fashions, had a very interesting film career in the 1930s and a permanent place in Caftan Woman's Hall of Fame for 1939 when she played the object of Oliver Hardy's unrequited love in The Flying Deuces and his lovesick daughter in the same year's Zenobia. James and Jean form a strong mutual attraction and together with their three newfound friends an odd yet strong family is formed.
Charles Winninger, C. Aubrey Smith, Harry Carey
I believe that the soul of man is immortal and will be treated with justice in another life, respecting its conduct in this.
- Benjamin Franklin
The above quote appears after the opening credits of the film and if the audience has forgotten it as the story unfolds, its meaning becomes clear with the death of the three kind gentlemen in a plane crash. Their spirits return to the NYC abode where they observe the life they have left and wonder about what is to come. Madame Tanya alone senses their presence. "I know you are here. I cannot see you or touch you, but I know you have come home."
The human interest story surrounding the deaths of the high profile businessmen and the young couple makes for great copy. James appealing personality and singing ability thrust him into the spotlight, a very bright spotlight. I can find no evidence that Carlson's voice was dubbed so assume that he did his own singing in the story and it's a very nice voice. Michael is thrilled that James has a chance to do something with his talent, making people happy and providing a good future for himself and Jean. George remains cynical, even in the afterlife. "A chance to get mixed up with a lot of cheap people. They'll turn his head and make a fool of him. He'll drink too much and he'll laugh too much. He'll lose his way."
George's prophecy comes true as James falls under the spell of singing star Arlene Terry played by Helen Vinson (Torrid Zone, The Kennel Murder Case, The Power and the Glory). She's the gal who discarded George's wallet. Arlene is a dishonest narcissist who comes between James and Jean for the fun of it. If I have one complaint with Richard Carlson as James it is that in his scenes with Arlene/Ms. Vinson his lack of guile makes him seem almost too dumb for words. Nonetheless, he is not the first man to fall for her line. Arlene's distraught and drunken ex-husband played by James Bush (You Can't Cheat an Honest Man, Internes Can't Take Money) is out for blood. By this time, two of our three spirits have been called to their destiny. Michael remains fighting Heaven and endangering his immortal soul in a bid to intercede and help his young friends survive the tragedy he sees coming their way. "Sometimes you have to go through the darkness alone before you can see the light."
The fantasy aspects of Beyond Tomorrow are written and played with a gentle sincerity that fits in perfectly with a Christmas theme. Christmas, despite its festive trappings, is not a season of unremitting joy. It is also a time of sweet and sad memories of our good times and bad, and of those no longer with us. This sensitive drama affirms the connection of souls across the borders of time and space in an unpretentious and satisfyingly sentimental manner.
On Christmas Eve, Michael (Charles Winninger) insists on imbibing and sharing a "Tom and Jerry" with all and sundry. The celebratory punch dates back to the 19th century and every year I promise myself I will try it, but haven't gotten around to it yet. It sounds warming and sweet, two things of which I highly approve.
This recipe makes 24 servings of the eggnog-like concoction. It should be fairly easy to amend to suit a smaller party.
1-1/4 cups confectioner's sugar
20 ounces of brandy
24 cups of milk
1 pinch of ground nutmeg
Separate the eggs and beat the whites until frothy. Whisk in 3/4 cup of confectioner's sugar to form stiff peaks. Beat the yolks with the remaining sugar adding 4 or 5 tablespoons of brandy. Fold the egg whites into the mixture and refrigerate.
Heat the milk until hot, but not boiling. Reduce heat to simmer.
Place 2 tablespoons of brandy plus 1 tablespoon of the egg mixture in a mug then fill with the steaming milk, topping with more egg mixture and a dash of the nutmeg. Declaim an appropriate seasonal toast.