Movie Review: Tomorrow (1972)

Faulkner story stark and simple _ 8/10Tomorrow
Review by Brian Wright

From IMDb a comment:
Jon (ssgtjon@hotmail.com) (San Antonio, Tx) October 1999: I would agree with Robert Duvall as this being one of his favorite films he made. Any thinking person with enough patience should love this film. The movie concerns a simple, probably illiterate Mississippi dirt farmer who is hired as an overseer of a saw mill during the winter season and finds an abandoned pregnant woman whom he eventually falls in love with.

The film shows the turn of the century South in a very straightforward and unglamorous fashion and very well captures the mood and feel of a very lonely rural community. The accents and natural performances are just perfect for the setting it’s in. It has the feel of many Horton Foote films such as The Trip To Bountiful, Convicts, etc. Robert Duvall does great with his slow-drawling inarticulate accent. I would rate this as Duvall’s greatest film along with Lonesome Dove and The Apostle.

Directed by Joseph Anthony
Play by
Horton Foote
Story by
William Faulkner

Robert Duvall … Jackson Fentry
Olga Bellin … Sarah Eubanks
Sudie Bond … Mrs. Hulie
Richard McConnell … Isham Russell
Peter Masterson … Lawyer Douglas
William Hawley … Papa Fentry
James Franks … Preacher Whitehead
Johnny Mask … Jackson Longstreet Fentry

Tomorrow is one of those films we used to call art movies, with peanuts for a budget, black and white, written first for the stage, and receiving A1 reviews from the top critics in the country. And in the old days—well, when this movie was produced—I mostly would have had one word for such a movie: BOOORRRINGGG! But time and experience in life has a tendency to expand one’s appreciation of the little things, the basics. I cannot imagine a more fundamental movie than this one: from the gitgo, a flashback, Jackson Fentry (Robert Duvall) secures the most meager survival as caretaker of a sawmill in the middle of Rural Nowhere, Mississippi.

While watching the drab scenery, all full of dust and mud, a gray and cloudy mood settles upon you. Fentry makes the arrangements with the owner, and you hear the long-vowelled cadence of his voice, reminding of the Billy Bob Thornton character in Sling Blade. [In fact, the vocal qualities are so close, I would not be surprised if Thornton came up with his sound from constant exposure to the soundtrack of Tomorrow on a tape recorder.] Fentry’s surroundings are elemental, and there’s a fascination in witnessing the man going about his chores and the routines of rustic living with literally no adornment or amenity.

The ruggedness of his existence brings to mind another film: Heartland, starring Rip Torn and Conchata Ferrell. Yet the world is full of surprises, when lo and behold while Fentry is making the rounds of the property he hears moans out by the sawmill building, it’s a woman named Sarah (Olga Bellin) who’s run off from her husband’s kin after her husband has run off to nobody knows where. It’s toward winter, and she’s in a bad way, for a while incoherent, semiconscious, probably lost, obviously arriving from troubled circumstances. Fentry is a goodhearted fellow and swears to look after her, especially when he learns she’s going to have a baby.

Sarah definitely brings a bit of joy, or at least voice and song, to the hard world Fentry inhabits. In one touching scene, Fentry, who has no horse and must walk everywhere he needs to go, visits the general store perhaps six miles away, and while buying supplies he purchases some hard candy. For Sarah. One appreciates the naturalism in such scenes, the ordinary transactions between human beings, seemingly isolated from the rest of the universe. Whether a man needs provisions from a store owner or help from someone who knows something about medicine or a preacher or the law, in this desolate place the act stands out in stark relief.

Robert Duvall is amazing, as is the rest of the cast. There’s a plot and a moral of sorts, all following from Sarah’s birth of a boy. Later, as if to lighten the stolid bleakness of these lives, we see Fentry and the boy playing in a stream, as if they are both little boys. Hard candy and playing in a stream: from the perspective of middle class Americana, such few brief pleasures don’t balance out the toilsome, harsh realm. But who knows? What Faulkner and Foote may have been driving at is that from the perspective of Fentry all is well; survival is a good thing and his mind is certainly not cluttered with regrets or anxieties.

Well, one or two things. Then there’s your plot. A marvel of efficiency, you have to take your hat off to the writers, director, and actors. The DVD I received from Netflix had Special Features including this marvelous, one-in-a-million joint interview with Robert Duvall and playwright/screenwriter Horton Foote. The interview occurs in 2004, five years before Horton Foote died (2009 at the age of 92—he remained creatively active until his last years). We find a disturbing bit of film history: it appears the editor decided to jettison a scene (over the objections of Duvall) that would have greatly enhanced the clarity of the story, particularly the ending

Such destructive ego trips aside, Tomorrow is a vital historical American film, one for the books, as they say. [Let me also comment at this point that in my early adult life, I was strongly affected by the ‘romantic realism’ preferences of Ayn Rand—who strongly disdained any fiction that smacked of behaviorism or naturalism, whatever term the analysts were using in those days to describe ‘slice of life’ art. Today I appreciate such works, though sometimes purely for analytic reasons. A major reason for liking romanticism is the emotional fuel it provides; with Tomorrow, it’s a stretch to find such inspiration. But simply contemplating the human condition can sometimes be esthetically rewarding.][1]

[1] By the way, an absolutely excellent and inspirational Robert Duvall film in the slice-of-life category is Tender Mercies.

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