Tomorrow is Forever (1946) - full review!
Directed by Irving Pichel, based on Gwen Bristow’s story with a Lenore J. Coffee (Four Daughters (1938)) screenplay, this heart tugging drama stars Claudette Colbert, Orson Welles (who gives the film's best, a most credible, acting performance), George Brent, Lucile Watson, Richard Long, Natalie Wood, and Ian Wolfe, among others.
It's November 11, 1918 and "the Great War" has just ended. Factory owner Charles Hamilton (Douglas Wood, uncredited), his nephew Larry (Brent), his assistant Norton (Wolfe) and all his other employees are celebrating. One of their newer employees, Elizabeth MacDonald (Colbert), is especially happy because, as she tells Larry, it means her young lieutenant husband will be coming home soon. Larry tells her he had wanted to enlist, but was told his family's factory was equally important to the war effort and was sent home. A month or more later, as she's preparing their home for Christmas and awaiting her husband's arrival, she receives a telegram saying that he, John Andrew MacDonald, had been killed in action. She recalls the shock of learning of her husband's decision to join the conflict, because he (Welles) wanted to be part of making the new world. However, we then learn that MacDonald is not dead, just horribly maimed and wounded, listed as an unknown lieutenant on the hospital records of a German hospital. Refusing to give his identity and asking to be killed, John is cared for by the kind Dr. Ludwig (John Wengraf), who tries to console the lieutenant, insisting that helping the soldier will make him a better doctor. Dr. Ludwig guesses that his patient is married and tells him that his wife has probably received word that he is dead, that she would certainly rather know that he was alive in order to lovingly help him to recover. But John refuses to give his name, determined to die or at least let his young wife have a happy life without having to worry about a physically broken man like him.
Back in Baltimore now, after Elizabeth had read the telegram, she returns to work late and collapses, causing Larry to take her to his home where his sister Jessica (Watson) can care for her. They learn she is pregnant and evidently she lives at the Hamilton's home through April, when she gives birth, and beyond while Larry's love grows for her and her son, John Andrew "junior". He proposes and, though she makes it clear to him that there will never be another love for her like John, she accepts. They agree to call the infant Drew from now on. Flash forward many years, Drew (the recognizable Richard Long, in his screen debut) is almost twenty-one, and we learn the Hamilton's have another son Brian (Sonny Howe) as well. It's now 1939 and the war in Europe causes the bearded chemist Erik Kessler (Welles), who walks deliberately with the aid of a cane, to seek a visa to work abroad. He and his five year old "daughter" Margaret (Wood) get permission to leave for the United States where Kessler (wouldn't you know it?) is hired to work at the Hamilton factory by Larry. One day, Kessler is asked to bring some papers to the Hamilton's estate where he sees, and recognizes, Elizabeth, though she doesn't recognize him (he also speaks with an accent). After he is introduced to their sons, the former John Andrew MacDonald "senior" suspects that Drew is his son, and has quite a discussion about the world and the current conflict with him. Back at his apartment (where Margaret was seemingly left home alone!), "MacDonald" reads his last (?) letter from Elizabeth which seems to confirm that she was pregnant; she'd had something to tell him which she wanted to save until they were together again.
Kessler was invited by Elizabeth to visit again with Margaret. When they do,during dinner with the rest of the Hamiltons, Drew receives a phone-call. He is excited to hear that one of his fraternity brothers, Pudge, at the University of Maryland has decided to go to Canada to become a flier for the RAF (Royal Air Force), which needs as many pilots as they can get. Thinking of her former husband, Elizabeth is instantly upset and makes it clear that Drew will not be following his friend. After dinner, Larry feels the need to explain his wife's emotional outburst to Kessler. He says that her overreaction was due to the fact that Elizabeth had a husband that was killed in World War I. That Drew, though he thinks Larry is his father, is really her ex-husband's son and that she's afraid the same fate will befall Drew, as it did his father, in this war. Learning of Kessler's prior conversation with her son, Elizabeth then asks the symbolically German Kessler not to come to their house again. Then there is a bang, and a tearful Margaret comes running into the room frightened. Kessler comforts her while he tells Larry & Elizabeth that the girl is really the daughter of a brave doctor named Ludwig. That he took it upon himself to raise her when Ludwig was killed for refusing to obey the Nazis. Wood (in her first credited role) is delightful as the youngster who, not only cries well at the shock of the fireworks but, is shown to be quite wise for her age. After hearing the story, Elizabeth apologizes to Kessler but he and Margaret don't visit the Hamiltons again.
Unfortunately, this film which begins with such promise becomes less enthralling as the melodrama plays out, making it merely very good when it could have been great. Naturally, Drew wants to join Pudge by enlisting, for the same reasons that his natural father wanted to join that conflict, but his mother is staunchly against it even though Larry tries to intercede. Drew's attempt to leave before he turns 21 plays out in a way that again involves Kessler, whose true identity Elizabeth had begun to suspect. This enables another heartfelt conversation between John Andrew "junior" and the former John Andrew "senior" as well as another between Elizabeth and her ex-husband. After these, however, the ending feels a bit rushed and too pat in both story-lines.