Sunday, December 23, 2012

Because "A Couple of Days From Now" doesn't sound like such an appealing title

Although there is a limited number of Christmas movies to which TCM can get the rights, that doesn't mean I've already recommended all of them. As far as I can tell, I've never done a full-length post on Beyond Tomorrow, which is airing tomorrow morning at 5:30 AM on TCM.

At the start of this Christmas fantasy, three wealthy but unmarried industrialists are celebrating Christmas Eve alone: George (Harry Carey) is a bit strait-laced; Allan (C. Aubrey Smith) had served in the British Army; and Michael (Charles Winninger) is the mischievous life-of-the-party type. At least, he would be if there were a party. The three men, being unmarried live alone together in a big New York City house with their two Russian émigré servants. This being Christmas Eve, one of them gets an idea to test the humanity of the other people in New York. Each of them is going to throw a billfold (as if they just have extra billfolds lying around, but that's another story) out the window, stuffed with a $10 bill (this was 1940, when ten dollars could actually buy something) and a card with their address on it. Will people be kind enough to return the money? If so, they'll be treated to a Christmas Eve dinner as their reward.

The first wallet is recovered by Arlene (Helen Vinson), an actress who's already succeeded in the big city and doesn't need an extra ten dollars. But she only thinks about herself, so she swipes the bill but leaves the billfold behind. This marks her as a Bad Person, and also means that we know she's going to show up again to play the Bad Person Part. Two other people, however, decide to return the money: working-girl Jean (Jean Parker), and Texas transplant James (Richard Carlson), who is a "starving artist" singer. They get invited in to dinner, and neither having anything else to do on Christmas Eve, take the three old men up on their offer. The two young people unsurprisingly fall in love, and they all lived happily ever after...

Or did they? Since all of the action above happens in the first half of the movie, you know the movie can't be over. The old businessmen have to go off for an important meeting and sign an important contract, even though it's the Christmas season. They take a plane, and sure enough, the plane crashes, killing all three of them. However, before they go to heaven, they're placed in limbo, where they can still see what's going on back on Planet Earth. And that's not quite good. James has been discovered as a singer, and made it big, which should be a good thing. But unfortunately, James has also been discovered the the Bad Person Arlene. She takes just as much of a shining to James as Jane did. Our three dead men, being in limbo, can still afect somewhat what's going on down on Earth in the same way that a ghost can, so they take it upon themselves to try to repair the relationship between James and Jane using the limited powers they have.

There's still one more catch, though. The three are only in limbo. Each of them is going to get called to heaven, and if they don't go when called, they'll be forced to spend eternity in limbo as ghosts. So when George and then Allan get called, it leaves Michael alone to try to save James and Jane from the evil clutches of Arlene. That is, until he too gets called....

Beyond Tomorrow is a charming little movie that doesn't try to do too much, and that's a good thing. While the cast is almost entirely character actors, they're all immensely enjoyable. The ghostly effects are obviously nothing near the quality of what you could get with today's CGI effects, but that's no big deal. About the only problem the movie has, and it's not a very big problem, is that being a Christmas movie, you can probably expect that it's going to have a happy ending, which forces the hand of the screenplay writers. But then, it is a Christmas movie, after all. Sometimes you just want to watch a feel-good movie.

Beyond Tomorrow ended up in the public domain at some point, so there are several versions of the movie available on DVD.

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