It Happened Tomorrow

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A journalist is given a fast-track to glory when he starts getting tomorrow’s headlines today in It Happened Tomorrow, a bright and breezy fantasy from 1944.

It’s easy to imagine Cary Grant in this movie. He was first choice to be its lead, and Frank Capra was meant to direct. It’s also incredibly easy to imagine Capra being involved too. The corny fantasy It’s a Wonderful Life was only two years in the future.

However, both are ably substituted. Grant by Dick Powell, then still en route from being a matinee crooner to his reinvention as a hard-bitten private detective later in the year in Murder, My Sweet (aka Farewell, My Lovely). And Capra by René Clair, the French director with a light fantastical touch that’s just right for this story about a newspaperman getting a first look at the future.

Clair rewrote the original story, which came from two different sources, with buddy and writing partner Dudley Nichols. Together they pull all sorts of neat feints as they spin out a yarn about an obituary writer who really wants to be a star reporter. The first one being the visit of Larry Stevens (Powell) and his drunken journalist pals to see a stage magician.

The Great Cigolini (Jack Oakie) works together with a glamorous assistant Sylvia (Linda Darnell), who is able to foretell the future from a trancelike state. These two, it seems obvious, are going to provide the “magic” that’s got to happen in movies like this to transport everyday folk into a realm where the impossible is possible and the future can really be glimpsed.

Not a bit of it. As is made clear early on, the stage routine is just a stage routine and Cigolini and Sylvia have no particular claim on specialness – unless its huckesterism on his part and beauty on hers – instead the “magic” comes from an old boy who works back at the paper. Pop Benson (John Philliber) is a wise old soul who reckons that past, present and future are all an illusion and that something something something (it gets a bit indistinct about here).

Larry with tomorrow's paper today
Larry with tomorrow’s paper today

In précis: Larry ends up, thanks to Pop, with tomorrow’s paper in his pocket the night before he should have it, which allows him to jump to the front of the queue as the newspaper’s number one guy, and leave the old job of writing obituaries behind.

Meanwhile, Larry has also cosied up to Sylvia, who is being fiercely guarded by Cigolini, who claims to be her uncle but is giving off a different vibe altogether.

Clair and Nichols also sprinkle little time paradoxes throughout, which will confuse the people who think this sort of thing was invented by Christopher Nolan, and they do it charmingly.

Charm is what films like this must have. A guy who can see into the future has the jump on the rest of us, so we have to like him. But there is charm in abundance here and even the bad guys have their human side. Cigolini turns out to be more bark than bite. Larry’s bumptious editor, Mr Gordon (George Cleveland) isn’t trying to hold back Larry’s career but run a decent newspaper. And aggressive local cop Inspector Mulrooney (Edgar Kennedy) – who wonders why Larry is suddenly always on the scene when a crime is being committed – is also just a guy doing his job.

It’s a film from 1944, it’s worth remembering that when watching it. Because this film about the future behaves like a film from the past. With its shadowless lights up very bright and everything zipping along with a screwball energy, not to mention a title echoing It Happened One Night, this seems more 1930s than 1940s.

Darnell does OK as Sylvia. Her beauty is ahead of her skills as an actor, but Powell gallantly takes her with him in a couple of scenes where it looks like she’s about to dry up.

There’s a little sub strand on what it takes to be a real man, which PhD students could probaby work up into a chapter in a thesis, but it doesn’t get in the way of this movies twin poles – the “future” plot and the romance, both of which resolve exactly as they should in something aiming for the entertainment bullseye.

It Happened Tomorrow – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2023

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