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  • Benjamin May

Tomorrow (1972) Review

In the deep American South of the early 1900's, living wasn't easy. Food and work were scarce, and so were the means to find them. Jackson Fentry had it harder than most. A simple man with a kind heart, Fentry walks thirty miles in the depths of Winter to take up a job as a sawmill operator. There, he lives a quiet, lonely life and seems destined to stay that way forever. Soon however, happenstance brings an abandoned, sickly pregnant woman to the sawmill, who Fentry cares for, nursing her back to health. Eventually the two form a bond and she gives birth to a healthy child- but whether or not Fentry will be able to sustain their newfound, non-traditional family unit in a cruel, cold world remains to be seen.

Directed by Joseph Anthony and Written by Horton Foote- based on an episode he wrote for Playhouse 90, which was in turn inspired by a William Faulkner short story- this drama is quietly powerful on all fronts. Foote was a writer of much subtlety, whose work in a wide range of mediums- from theatre to television- continues to impress with its' emotional depth. His screenplay for 'Tomorrow' ranks alongside his adaptation of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' as one of his finest works. It's never melodramatic, despite having moments of high-drama, with Foote painting a portrait of Southern life at the turn of the last century that is both realistic and profound.

Foote's dialogue sounds genuine to the period and to the characters, with his writing for Fentry being particularly believable and strong. Some critics suggest that he has over-written some of Faulkner's lines, added too many Southernisms perhaps. However, if one reads the Faulkner story that 'Tomorrow' is based on, they'll see that this isn't the case. In fact, the seeming over-use of Southern sayings and eccentricities of speech in the film are as present in Faulkner's original work as they are in Foote's adaptation. Not to mention the fact- and this is a cheap line, but a pertinent point- that is how many people talked back then.

Under Anthony's direction, Allan Green captures the coldness, despair and drama inherent to the story masterfully with his black and white cinematography. He moves his camera relatively little, and this stillness adds unquestionable power and dramatic tension to scenes as well as reinforcing the overall tone of the film. The muted score from composer Irwin Stahl also contributes to the atmosphere, as does Reva Schlesinger's fine, unobtrusive editing.

Robert Duvall is a master of understatement, and his performance as Fentry is a testament to that fact. His Fentry is a sad, introverted man of surprising emotional intelligence and depth. Stuck in a cold life without resources, or the abilities- mental or otherwise- to acquire them, he has the audience's sympathies from the get-go. Duvall consistently underplays the role, despite having many lines to deliver steeped in Southern slang (which a lesser actor would surely overemphasise). Faulknerian characters are never easy to bring to life, but Duvall makes it seem like a breeze; delivering a complex, affecting performance that will be fondly remembered forever by those who see it.

Olga Bellin leads the supporting cast as Sarah, the pregnant woman who fate transports to Fentry's door. Her's is an intriguing character whose background is never fully explained or explored in the film, though Bellin does a remarkable job making her appear sympathetic and well-rounded. She is a more expressive presence on screen than Duvall, and their contrasting acting styles makes for interesting viewing. Though she doesn't have all that much screen time, Bellin certainty leaves an impression, and delivers a fine performance all the same.

'Tomorrow' is a quiet, sad, slow-burn that is an emotionally powerful journey back to the deep South of the 1900's. It is a fantastic adaptation of William Faulkner's story, a writer whose work is often butchered or made overly melodramatic on screen. Robert Duvall delivers a masterful lead performance that will enrapture any viewer with its depth and power. It may not be for everyone, but for those who appreciate character-based human dramas; 'Tomorrow' is a must watch.


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