From RKO Pictures
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
I just watched this the other day. It was an unplanned entry into my Good 40s Films sweepstakes, but I was so charmed by it (again... I've seen it before) that I thought I would include it now while the iron's still hot.
When it came out in 1946, it inevitably paled in comparison to the similarly-themed The Best Years of Our Lives which not only came out the same year but won Oscar's best picture. Actually, one can appreciate how big Best Years was when we note that it was the most awarded (from all organizations) film of the entire decade. How could little Till the End of Time stand up against that?
Well, in my opinion, very well. It's much smaller. The cast is smaller, the scope is smaller, the budget is smaller. Best Years came out of Samuel Goldwyn studios who chose to make it a big roadshow production. (Fear not, Best Years will get its own posting in due time.) This one came out of RKO and if you recall in my piece on that studio, they did most everything small, on the tightest of budgets. I suppose the great question is why they went through with it at all when they heard what Goldwyn was up to.
While they gave a smaller role to their Old Reliable, Robert Mitchum, they gave the two lead roles to actors they borrowed from David O'Selznick, Dorothy McGuire and Guy Madison. She had only made a few movies but created quite a stir in Claudia, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Spiral Staircase. This was Madison's second role but his first starring one after a quick turn in Since You Went Away two years earlier. Borrowing two players who work at other studios would have cost RKO more money so it's more than a little surprising that they did so.
Here's some scoop though... at least as I see it. It wouldn't have put RKO in the poorhouse to get Madison and all of Hollywood knew of him because of the fans. Young girls and others were flipping out over his stunning looks. It seemed immaterial whether or not he could act (and quite a few voted negatively) but if Selznick wasn't using him for anything, then why not a loan? The savvy David O. knew that Madison's further exposure couldn't hurt his home studio at all.
The role of Cliff Harper is a 22-year old, extremely handsome, somewhat immature soldier just getting out of the war. He appears happy to be getting out but it's immediately clear that he isn't ready to be a civilian. In fact, he doesn't seem to know much about it. No doubt he entered the service straight out of high school and therefore has never lived in society as an adult... not that anyone is accusing him of being one of those. What we do know is that he needs some immediate female companionship.
He leaves the service with his buddy. Bill (Mitchum), a guy with a big chunk of metal in his head and a promise of future problems. One of Bill's friends, Perry, has lost his legs and has a difficult time adjusting to life and his prosthetic legs. Looking at a trio of men is also similar to Best Years but here the focus is clearly on Cliff.
His parents (wonderfully played by character actors Tom Tully and Ruth Nelson) are concerned for Cliff because all he does is lie around in bed bare-chested (so difficult, so very difficult to watch) and seems to have no goals or interests. When his father asks him if he needs any money, he says that he has $120 and that should last him a long time. Ah, 1946.
|When they meet...|
Well, ok, Cliff has one interest. She is Pat (McGuire, of course), a bit older than Cliff, recently-widowed, who's trying to come to grips with her loss and is having mixed results. If their initial meeting doesn't make you wanna grab for the smelling salts or at least fan yourself, I will write your referral to a heart specialist to see what happened to yours.
They are both so in lust from their first meeting and before long it turns to love but Pat is the grownup here and wants to be strong enough to move forward with her life, which she hopes will include Cliff. He loves her, it's obvious, but he's little more than an overgrown kid. They argue, each throws out hints that it may be over, may have to be, but we realize, again, that this is 1946 in America. After the ravages of war and this particular difficulty in adjusting to civilian life, c'mon, there's no way Pat and Cliff are not going to work out. He's going to grow up and we're gonna watch it happen.
|When they beach....|
It is a sweet little story. These are not perfect people but rather ones who are trying to find their way in a chaotic world. It's also a delightful period piece... delicious to see Los Angeles of 1946 and the clothes, the cars, the language, the attitudes. The last scene of this film made my heart soar. I'm still a fool for a good love story.
Just in case you've forgotten, I have always been crazy about Dorothy McGuire. Always had a soft spot in my heart for her. She looks so young here. Maybe its her quietness, her softness that does it for me... certainly she is a far cry from those sassy, smart-mouthed actresses I usually favor. I could well understand how a wholesome Cliff could fall for a wholesome Pat.
Put aside all that I have said, if you choose, and pay attention to just one thing, said in just two words... Guy Madison. I won't embarrass myself here but I might shortly in a posting just on him. If he weren't one of the most beautiful men to ever show up on a movie screen, I certainly don't know who was. I expect Laurence Olivier never trembled in his presence but in these days Madison's boyish and handsome earnestness was good enough for me. He was perfect as Cliff Harper.
It's kind of a surprising role for Mitchum because it's a secondary one. He had done 30 films by the time he filmed this one. Most of those roles were ones that were so small that he received no screen credit but RKO had just recently given him a couple of starring roles. These were still his bread-and-butter days and he needed both and did as he was told. Of course, he was good here as he always was. I expect of all the older movies I have highlighted in these pages from the beginning, he is the actor whose name shows up the most.
Jean Porter (still alive at 93) plays Cliff's vivacious, teenage, nextdoor neighbor who develops a thing for him and provides some of the film's lighter moments. It was on this film that Porter met her future husband, director Edward Dmytryk. Her career suffered a bit when her husband was accused of being a communist. Johnny Sands plays her young, handsome boyfriend who knows he's being played while she makes the moves on an older man. He would play the same role a year later with Shirley Temple and Cary Grant in The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer.
Take a moment to view one of the film's lighter moments with Madison and Porter on the dance floor:
Dmytryk was one of my favorite directors but was usually known for hard-boiled dramas. Still, he seemed at home here working with romance.
Incidentally: the film is based on a book called They Dream of Home by Niven Busch and filmed under that title. Busch, by the way, was married at the time to actress Teresa Wright who was off making The Best Years of Our Lives at the time of the filming of his work. The song, Till the End of Time, with its promise of everlasting love, had proved a huge hit for Perry Como, Dick Haymes, Doris Day and Ginny Sims. The public couldn't get enough of it and RKO knew it. So they incorporated it liberally into the film and changed the title of the film. It had little to do with the story, but who cares? Do you?
A decent guy