THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW (1956) B/W widescreen 84m dir: Douglas Sirk
w/Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Joan Bennett, Jane Darwell, William Reynolds, Gigi Perreau
Another of director Sirk's intelligent, ironic soapers. In this one, MacMurray is a disaffected toy manufacturer afflicted with a self-absorbed wife (Bennett) and ratty kids. Then old flame Stanwyck reenters his life, and the fireworks begin. From Michael Stern's Douglas Sirk : "It is in its finality a chilling film --- a detailed examination of a man who, suddenly realizing his life has become a claustrophobic trap, struggles desperately to break away. His struggle only mires him deeper, his attempt to escape underlining the hopelessness of his life. To the extent that he develops a profound awareness of his condition, Clifford Groves (Fred MacMurray) of There's Always Tomorrow is a real tragic hero, trapped inside a petit bourgeois existence." Of course, Sirk uses the mise en scene (everything that's put before the camera --- look especially for the placement of mirrors and screens), the lighting, and the camera angles to express the character's entrapment. Stanwyck and MacMurray are both quite touching in their respective roles.
Warning --- the following contains specific story information you may not wish to know before viewing the film:
This article, "The Lure of the Gilded Cage" by Jeanine Basinger, was originally published in issue 6 (1977) of Bright Lights Film Journal and discusses THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW as well as ALL I DESIRE (1953), another Sirk film:
"'Once upon a time in sunny California' reads a title card immediately after the credits for Sirk's There's Always Tomorrow. 'Once upon a time' triggers an expectation of a fairy tale story about a beautiful princess who, against all odds, finds happiness with her Prince Charming. The words represent the traditional opening for stories that feature happy endings in which women's dreams come true in the arms of a dream lover who, it is assumed, will turn into a dream husband immediately following 'they lived happily ever after.'
"In Sirk's film, however, 'once upon a time in sunny California' is undercut by the image which follows — that of a rain-soaked, dreary Los Angeles street in the heart of the business district. It is a prime example of typical Sirkian irony, as the image forces an audience to re-evaluate conventional expectations. This re-interpretation of romantic myths is the theme of two 'women's pictures' that Sirk directed in the 1950's: There's Always Tomorrow (1955) and All I Desire (1953).
"Norma Miller in There's Always Tomorrow makes a journey back to her former home to see the man she has always loved. She returns to the scene of her fantasy. As the film progresses, her fantasy becomes a reality — her loved one begins to return her feeling. Yet Norma ultimately rejects their love in favor of another fantasy — that of the sanctity of his alleged 'happy home.' Norma remains true to both her fantasy and society's rules for women.
"Naomi Murdoch of All I Desire makes a journey back to what she knows is a grim reality — the home and family she ran away from to become an actress. As the film progresses, the audience becomes aware through Sirk's images that nothing has changed. Yet Naomi elects to stay, rejoining her husband as his wife and her children as their mother. She creates a new fantasy, one that society would approve for her.
"There's Always Tomorrow and All I Desire both star Barbara Stanwyck. An actress of complex signals, she is the physical embodiment of a Sirkian universe. Her surface is hard. Adorned with expensive clothes, jewels, and furs, she looks tough and capable. However, her soft and almost pleading eyes offer a different clue to her inner state. Like Sirk, she undercuts her own surface with opposite meaning. She can effectively portray a woman strong enough to succeed in a man's world who might still retain a core of romanticism.
"There's Always Tomorrow and All I Desire are typical Sirk films. The two heroines return to their past, not in search of self, but in search of illusions that society has taught them are women's portion in life. A comparison of the two films sets up a mirror image of reflected similarities and refracted opposites, an appropriately Sirkian construction. 'Norma Miller' and 'Naomi Murdoch' ('N.M.' and 'N.M.') both reflect and reverse one another.
"Mirror images — opposites
"Plain Norma Miller is a success. Beautiful Naomi Murdoch is a failure. Norma has been in love with Cliff Groves (Fred MacMurray) all her life. He has neither returned her love, nor been aware of it. Naomi married her first love, Henry Murdoch (Richard Carlson). He returned her love, providing her with a step up socially by his offer of marriage. The marriage, however, proved unhappy.
"Both women sought solace for disappointment through another man: Norma legally, Naomi illegally. Norma married and divorced. ('Never marry out of loneliness.') Her husband is never seen in There's Always Tomorrow, but is merely referred to in the dialogue. He never exists as an image the audience sees, nor does he exist in her heart or her life. Naomi has conducted a clandestine affair with a man ostensibly suited to her social background and to a certain baseness in her nature. Dutch Heineman (Lyle Bettger) is an animalistic man whose presence is ominous and pervasive. He exists in the film physically and also symbolically. He is in marked contrast to Henry, a school principal dominated by society's restrictions and his own sense of proper behavior.
"Another woman exists in both stories, one a wife and the other a would-be wife for the two principal men. Cliff Groves is married to Marion (Joan Bennett). She is wrapped up in her children, her elegant home, and her own needs. She is oblivious to Cliff. Henry Murdoch is loved by a docile, but intelligent school teacher (Maureen O'Sullivan) who not only worships him, but reflects his values.
"Norma has no children. Naomi has three she left behind when she deserted
her husband to go on the stage.
The plot structure of the two films reflects a further opposite. Norma returns to Los Angeles to see once again the man she has always loved. She is a successful dress designer, but plays down her success. She comes to romanticize Cliff and his married life, the life she dreamed of for herself. (In her private romantic myth, marriage to Cliff would be perfect for her. Thus, it must be perfect for the woman who really experienced it.) Naomi returns to town to see one of her daughters play the lead in a high school play. Naomi is a failure as an actress, but pretends she is a success.
"Norma enters Cliff's life with stars in her eyes. When she visits his home, she says it is as she always dreamed it would be, 'warm and cheerful.' Naomi returns to her small town well aware of what it will be like and why she originally left it. ('What a burg!')
"All I Desire is set in the fishbowl existence of an American small town. The moment Naomi sets foot off the train which brings her back, her presence is noticed and remarked upon. 'What a spiffy!' says the town gossip as he marks her fashionable attire. When he realizes who she is, he can't wait to spread the word. 'Won't the ladies be talking tonight!' Since the audience has already seen the sadness behind the illusion of Naomi as a successful actress, her arrival is a performance, one of the many instances of reality versus truth in the film.
"There's Always Tomorrow is set in the anonymity of Los Angeles. The lovers are surrounded by urban crowds, yet they can find no solace in aloneness. They are separated when on a balcony talking of their love, and they are spied on by Cliff's children at their weekend retreat. Their inability to be alone together represents their situation in life.
"Mirror images — similarities
"Norma and Naomi function with considerable force outside the world their men populate. Seen backstage at the opening of All I Desire, Naomi is hard, her face a mask of repressed feelings. Her acting is a job she does as competently as she can (without any real success at it), but she can more than take care of herself alone in a difficult world. Although she has not done well, she has saved enough money to return home in a splendid wardrobe. She has been able to make a living.
"Norma, seen in her own office, is openly framed and brightly lit. She functions with crisp efficiency and absolute self-confidence. (She seems much more capable and relaxed in her workaday world than Cliff does in his. The point is graphically made that Cliff is like one of his own toys, the Walkie-Talkie Robot man.) Dramatically costumed in a black-and-white ensemble with an ironic pattern of triangles, she is elegant and free. She does not seem as ill-at-ease and trapped as she appears earlier in the film. Seen in her hotel room, for instance, she is dubiously reflected in her own mirror, or lost behind a latticed screen. The film makes it clear that she is a success, and that perhaps even much of Cliff's earlier success in his toy business was due to her talent.
"Typically, both movies are populated with Sirkian children: selfish, interfering, domineering, and just generally nasty. In both cases, the children are instrumental in causing friction between the couples. The homes in which the two dominant men live both reflect American materialism and the preoccupation with the Better-Homes-and-Gardens syndrome, as interpreted by Douglas Sirk. In these homes, comfort and apparent ease are dissected visually by spatial relations which separate characters and alienate them both from one another and from their environment.
"Mirror images: illusion vs. reality
"Both films are set in homes which appear idyllic, by the materialistic standards of the 1950s. Norma attends a dinner party at Cliff's elegant suburban palace in which the table setting, food, and service are perfection. The women's magazine dream life is abundantly present. Yet the conversation at the dinner table is barely civil, and Cliff's children are rude while his wife remains cheerfully indifferent, intent on playing the polite hostess. Sirk presents the reality of their family situation through the placement of candles on the table which cut apart and separate the guests, isolating them from one another. Cliff only seems to be the head of a happy family. In reality, he is ignored, disrespected, and lonely within his circle.
"When Naomi approaches the home she has deserted, she sees her family inside at the dinner table. Through the screen door (a distancing device), they appear to her in a blur of supportive family unity. Naomi's eyes mist over. ('You don't know what a home means until you've lost it.') The scene is similar to Saroyan's short story, 'Going Home,' in which a prodigal son returns home on a summer night, experiencing a sense of perfection regarding his former family life. As he nears the door, however, his memories of the things which drove him away overwhelm him. He runs away. Naomi is not that wise. She enters. Within seconds, the loving family circle is split apart by stair banisters, chair backs, and room dividers. Her eldest daughter tells her she hates her. Her son does not remember her. Her bitter husband picks an accusing quarrel in which he warns her, 'a few minutes of charm can't make up for a desertion.'
"Even in the islands of pleasure that both There's Always Tomorrow and All I Desire contain, reality destroys illusion. There's Always Tomorrow affords Cliff and Norma a romantic weekend (a convention of the women's picture genre). They swim, dance, ride horseback, talk, and fall in love. They seem to have forever together. Reality intrudes in the form of Cliff's children, who spy on them and look upon their innocent fun as sordid. All I Desire contains a party sequence in which Naomi dances and has a wonderful time. She and Henry speak kindly to one another for the first time. As the lights are turned out, reality surfaces in the physical form of Lyle Bettger, lurking across the street in the bushes, waiting his turn at Naomi.
"Sound is used to cut apart the image before the audience's eyes in much the same way that Sirk's staircases, objects, and levels cut into it.
"In All I Desire, sounds split the image as a train whistle or a gun shot interrupts a conversation. As Richard Carlson and Maureen O'Sullivan talk warmly of the possibility of a future together, the fierce whistle of the train bringing Naomi to town cuts across their words. As Stanwyck and Carlson renew their love and pledge themselves to one another, the sound of a gun shot intrudes. It is Bettger's signal to Stanwyck to join him at their trysting place. In There's Always Tomorrow, Stanwyck and MacMurray play 'Blue Moon' on the Hurdy Gurdy toy they jointly designed. The warmth of their present relationship is split apart by a reminder of their sterile past. Both films function as anti-genre material.
"Many Hollywood movies have presented a sentimentalized portrait of turn-of-the-century backstage life. (Sirk's own film, Meet Me At the Fair, has a knockabout charm that suggests the possibility of showbiz folks living a freer life outside society's strictures.) A subcategory of the musical genre has always been the backstage musical, usually portrayed in a gay nineties setting of candy box decorations. All I Desire brings this tradition down in its opening episode showing the backstage life of Naomi Murdoch, an actress who is 'not quite at the bottom of the bill — or at the end of my rope either.' By her own words, Naomi does not 'have much to look forward to' although 'some people would say I asked for it.' (Without much to look forward to, she naturally looks back.)
"There's Always Tomorrow works from the familiar triangle story in which a far nobler woman loves a man saddled to an indifferent wife. By resolving its dilemma in favor of the wife, There's Always Tomorrow breaks with the majority of such pictures.
"The characters in both films show a constant concern with what is. People talk endlessly of 'reality.' Naomi's husband challenges her with 'how can everything seem the same to you when it isn't?' Later, however, he is sucked into believing it can be the same again. Naomi tells her former lover, 'We can't go back.' But he tells her, 'You want to go right back to the old days and so do I.' He is correct, but she wishes to return to the old days of social acceptance for herself. She shoots him, and then enters into a renewed relationship with her husband and family. Presumably her gunshot kills the old reality so a new one can begin. Yet her lover lives, and the audience (influenced by Sirk's visual style) senses that the old reality will recur instead.
"Norma remembers all that ever happened between her and Cliff. He remembers nothing until he begins to fall in love with her. Then his memories are created for him. He re-evaluates his past as he sees it for the first time from her point of view. Even as he listens to her romantic reminiscences, reality intrudes upon them. She reminds him that he took her to see her first Broadway show in the same theater they attend together. Yet she is forced to admit that this time around, she is bored. She had already seen the show several times in New York. She cannot recreate the past in the present for herself — only for him.
"Both films are set in the 'present' time, with no flashbacks. Yet they are primarily concerned with the past. The past dominates and defines all relationships, and dictates the conclusion to both stories. The characters all share past/present, illusion/reality dilemmas.
"On an 'irresistible impulse' Naomi Murdoch returns to her reality in the hopes (however dim) of finding her fantasy in a happy family life. Norma Miller has returned to her fantasy in the hopes (however dim) of finding the reality of love with Cliff. Naomi finds a 'happy ending,' but no real change. She has returned to what she ran away from in the first place. Norma Miller, on the other hand, finds the love she has always dreamed of, but makes a 'sacrifice' for an 'unhappy ending.' She chooses a life without the man she loves. Both women have returned to where they were in the first place. They have responded to the lure of the gilded cage.
"The answer is more than a plot construction. It lies in Douglas Sirk's vision of America in the 1950s. He turned his films, which were made of the stuff of ordinary people's dreams, into complex portraits of a society built on materialism, false values, illusions, surfaces, romantic myths, blindness, and a hyped-up sentimentality that no one really understood. Sirk saw America as a nation concerned with surfaces, in which materialism substituted for real feeling, and society dictated repressive behavior. By creating conventional women's pictures in his own vision, Sirk revealed the reality lurking under American illusions.
"In both films, two women who have made an independent life for themselves yearn intuitively for the world Cliff's wife (Joan Bennett) lives in — the world society has defined as correct for women. Society has, in fact, invented the Joan Bennett character. She is the wife and mother who lives off a man and counts herself a success if he makes money. She is as much a Walkie-Talkie robot as her husband. (After society invents her, it makes others in her mold.) For Norma and Naomi, the lure of the gilded cage (those well-appointed homes they return to in which they would live as society dictated) is more important than the truth of their feelings.
"Norma and Cliff re-form their relationship in the present. That present is reality. Their love is one of two people who are equals in business, in maturity, and human need. Although Norma knows Cliff's family does not love or appreciate him, she remains loyal to her romantic dream. 'What have I to give you to take its place?' she asks Cliff, referring to his 'home.' She sees herself as the 'other woman' and puts Cliff's family life ahead of their love. 'She's the one who belongs in your life — the first love.' She remains loyal to the romantic myth forever, as it conforms to society's standards more than her own private life does. She continues to make her illusion her reality.
"Naomi's past is also dominant in All I Desire. Her present is not reshaped. Rather, she and Henry pick up where they left off and pretend it can work. The plot supports this pretense, but Sirk's interpretation of it does not. Sirk has pointed out that the only logical ending is to have Naomi leave town at the end of the picture (as in the original story). With the 'happy' ending imposed upon him, Sirk managed to tell the story as he felt it should be told anyway. Through his images, he alerts us to the unlikelihood of Naomi and Henry finding happiness together. Naomi and Henry accept their love, which is false. Cliff and Norma give up theirs, which is real.
"Norma passes the burden of her romantic dream on to Cliff. By allowing his love for her to develop, she forces him to share her agony. In a perfect Sirkian irony, she rejects the possibility of at last realizing the romantic dream which has dominated her life. Naomi, on the other hand, re-accepts the disappointment of the romantic dream which dominated hers until she first broke out of it. Both women decide to go by the rules.
"Norma leaves Cliff by telling him it is because she can face reality. Her twenty years as a career woman, she says, are all that matter. 'I, too, have a life, and I am going back to it.' Although she is an example of the pre-liberation movement career woman, she maintains society's myths. The film's ending sees Cliff looking up at her plane as she flies away from him. She is distant, above him in the sky, a dream image. He will now spend the rest of his life dreaming of her as she once dreamed of him. The 'once upon a time' story ends with the Sleeping Beauty having kissed the prince awake into his own fantasy world. Her kiss is a romantic curse. He remains behind, himself forever trapped in the gilded cage of American middle class life."
From the website Senses of Cinema (www.sensesofcinema.com), this article by Adrian Danks, "The Far Side of Paradise: Douglas Sirk's There's Always Tomorrow":
"There is a wonderful expression: seeing through a glass darkly. Everything, even life, is inevitably removed from you. You can’t reach, or touch, the real. You just see reflections. If you try to grasp happiness itself your fingers only meet glass. It’s hopeless. --- Douglas Sirk (1)
"Douglas Sirk’s films are descriptive. Very few close-ups. Even in shot-counter-shot the other person doesn’t appear fully in the frame. The spectator’s intense feeling is not a result of identification, but montage and music. --- Rainer Werner Fassbinder (2)
"Fassbinder is certainly onto something when he describes Sirk’s films as 'descriptive'. Despite the common critical view that his melodramas are pregnant with subtextual meanings and undercurrents waiting to be decoded by later, more sophisticated viewers (or more precisely critics), their often withering but also sometimes quite exact and matter-of-fact view of 1950s bourgeois America is very much to the surface of the films and, I would argue, any audience’s response to them. In such heightened works as Magnificent Obsession (1954) or Written on the Wind (1957) this 'view' is a little obscured by the films’ 'equally' extraordinary display of commodities, colours and lifestyles, presenting themselves as both 'dark' views of wealthy, waspish, consumerist America and as kinds of advertising (3). Even in such an ostensibly sober and straightforwardly critical or tragic film as There’s Always Tomorrow, 'Sirk’s sense of the upscale suburban home as a spectacularly overdecorated tomb' (4) is mixed-and-matched with producer Ross Hunter’s overarching sensibility of 'sentimentality and tacky display' (5). But the greatness of There’s Always Tomorrow arises from the manner in which Sirk produces a sense of the former out of the materials of the latter.
"A connected notion of 'display' or distance is at the heart of Fassbinder’s very sympathetic and impassioned account of Sirk. His use of the term 'description' suggesting a filmmaker at some distance removed from his material, a possibly great social artist subverting or slumming it in the self-consciously commercial world of Universal melodrama. But I think that Fassbinder is somewhat inaccurate when stating that the 'intense feeling' generated by Sirk’s films is 'not the result of identification'. A film like There’s Always Tomorrow --- which Fassbinder had admittedly not seen when writing his tribute ---- certainly has a highly expressive, almost documentary-like quality to it, but it still engages its audience on the level of identification. The world that its central character, Clifford Groves (Fred MacMurray), an upstanding, mild-mannered man taken for granted by his family, is entombed within might be, and quite possibly is, uncannily like our own.
"There’s Always Tomorrow is one of the least discussed of Sirk’s great melodramas of the 1950s (partly because it is more rightly categorised as a social drama). Part of the common attraction of the films Sirk made for Universal from 1954 onwards is their tension between self-conscious display and deeper levels of meaning and feeling (often within those characters who are most on display). There’s Always Tomorrow has probably been less celebrated generally because it seems both less overt (or baroque or expressionist) and more straightforward. As James Harvey suggests, the story and situations that unfold within it are truly 'monstrous' (6) but also quite mundane in how they describe the progression of everyday events, and the inescapable 'tomb' or cage that Cliff is inevitably consigned to. Little happens in this film that moves beyond the realm of quotidian drama. The heightened states of emotion and expression that categorise Sirk’s extraordinary colour melodramas are muted here, and the life that is pumped back into its central characters --- but only momentarily to allow them the bitter taste of possibility, a world beyond that they have been sacrificed to --- is always tinged with a hopeless melancholy. And this is true from the very opening of the film. As Harvey suggests, this has much to do with the quality of the performances, particularly that of Stanwyck: 'And Stanwyck’s Norma shows --- as this actress usually does --- a complicated consciousness from the start, when Cliff first opens his front door on her. She is glowing, but nervously.' (7) This subtle, non-hysterical quality and an incipient naturalism are amongst the qualities that led John Flaus to calling There’s Always Tomorrow, 'The most penetrating study of family life and values in English language cinema' (8). Though a bold claim, such a response indicates a level of insight and drama that are never showy but emerge, very believably, from the small-scale interactions of the characters and their situation. The stuff of tragedy emanates from the suburban home. It also emanates, in a more self-conscious fashion, from the memory of MacMurray and Stanwyck together in earlier, more sexually-charged films: Remember the Night (Mitchell Leisen, 1940) and Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944).
"As some critics have suggested, There’s Always Tomorrow can be read as a kind of reversal of the story of Sleeping Beauty. Cliff is awoken to the possibilities of romance by Norma, a physical world beyond that he is routinely abandoned to by his very needy but neglectful family (his wife is always too tired, sleeps in her own, tantalisingly adjacent, but unimpeachably solitary single bed). It is this awakening, this emergence into consciousness, that is the most the heart wrenching and soul-destroying spectacle staged by the film. It is the film. Although made weary by the endless demands of family life, and his ironic profession of bringing 'joy' to children through the creation of toys, Cliff is never truly aware of what he is missing in life until Norma appears, unexpectedly, at his door. Rather than representing a figure he was once in love with --- we get the impression that he under-appreciated her when she worked with him 20 years before --- she stands in for the kind of life, and opportunity, that has been obliterated by his family and the mundanity and small-scale crowdedness of suburban living. She also aptly brings into focus the sense of 'removal' Sirk discusses above. Although Cliff does ultimately fall in love with her, or at least the idea of her, this occurs gradually and only after his senses and physical relation to the world have been reinvigorated. The weekend he spends with Norma at a resort in the desert is remarkable for the sense of light and physical sensation it brings into the film (less notable in itself than in terms of contrast). Much could be made of the scene where the couple go horseback riding, and is, but it is as significant for its sense of tactility as it is for its sexual connotations.
"The film’s lighting, design and camerawork brilliantly support Sirk’s overarching thesis. Although the hearth of the fire in the Groves’ home is always lit, and every detail of decor reinforces it as a 'normal', upwardly mobile suburban residence, it is crowded with shadows, cramped spaces, frames within frames, panes of glass and mirrors, and clusterings of furniture that suggest both the family circle and the separation of bodies into slightly compartmentalised spaces. This interior space is vast enough to allow characters to move relatively freely through it --- and for the routinely despicable children to both escape from and spy on their father --- but not so much so that these characters can’t also constantly impose their dominating and censoring presence vocally or sonically throughout the house (it is this, amongst many other things, that reinforces the sense of Cliff’s ultimate entombment). This is highlighted in the first scene set inside the Groves’ house. Cliff returns home from the office, excited by the night he has planned for his wife’s birthday. Everything that immediately follows illustrates his circumscribed role within the family as well as the domestic space: his son rudely tells him to be quiet when calling to his wife; his elder daughter prattles on about her 'emotional problems' and subsequently asks for money; his wife allows him a peck on the cheek, offers a passionless platitude about the flowers he’s brought her, and exclaims the impossibility of the two of them spending the night together. This quietly elaborate scene is brilliantly choreographed and timed, moving all of the characters through the domestic space and then outside of it in about five minutes of screen duration, leaving Cliff to don an apron and eat his dinner alone. It is a little later that Norma comes to the door, a barely remembered figure from Cliff’s past but potent enough to stand in for everything he’s lost. Her response to the home also indicates her own longing, but many of the details of mise-en-scene suggest that there is something not quite right with this 'picture'. For example, she admiringly picks up a framed family photograph, benignly chilling in its perfect composition of mother, son, daughters and absent father.
"In his extraordinary but sometimes limiting taxonomy of American cinema, Andrew Sarris places Sirk amongst those directors he sees as working or existing on the 'far side of paradise' (9). Sarris’ project is mostly canonical, but many of the directors he places in this category --- such as Nicholas Ray, Vincente Minnelli, Otto Preminger, Robert Aldrich, Samuel Fuller, and of course Sirk -- commonly provided a more critical, some might say cynical, view of American society, particularly in the 1950s. Sarris’ title for this category, like Sirk’s for the film, also has an ironic dimension. The great irony of Sirk’s title --- and his titles in general, though many were taken from earlier works -- is that although his film is all about the painful reality of such tomorrows --- the kind that Cliff has been consigned to --- it is also the ultimate lack of hope in what tomorrow may offer that nails the film’s bleak conclusions. The opening title card of the film promises 'Once upon a time, in sunny California', and then opens onto the rain-swept, darkened street outside of Cliff’s toy company. Before moving inside we see nondescript signage announcing Cliff’s toy business, and despite attempts by visitors to proclaim the opposite ('What a dreamy place to work in!'), the interior of his offices is crowded, like his home, by encroaching shadows, grim looking dolls and clowns, and a range of toys that will, ultimately, only serve to remind Cliff of all he has lost (or never had?). However, the parlous state of Cliff’s existence is not just left to be read into the mise-en-scene, it is openly recognised and stated by the characters. It is in this regard that Rex the 'walkie-talkie' Robot ultimately takes centre stage. This endlessly manipulable 'mechanical man' provides a no-nonsense analogue for Cliff, as he and Norma exchange pleasantries about the 'high hopes' held for him. But Cliff also directly voices his dissatisfaction and wish/need to leave his family for Norma; oblivious, as always, his wife totally fails to read the signs and volume of his grief.
"I have said little about the representation of children or Cliff’s wife, brilliantly played by Joan Bennett as a brittle, prim and proper housewife, as well as a character also lost to the malaise of bourgeois existence (and her children), in this article. As in many of Sirk’s films, the children emerge as the greatest forces of social control in the family; as in Sirk’s immediately previous film All that Heaven Allows (1955), William Reynolds’ son becomes the embodiment of such conservatism, emerging in both dress and manner (his hyper-grave expression, exaggeratedly upright posture, snipingly suspicious morality) as the greatest threat to and censor of Cliff’s position in the family. The film’s conclusion suggests that not just Cliff, but also his children, have become aware of the careless way in which the father has been used by the family. The last moments intimate a slight readjustment of their attitude, showing us the children looking admiringly at the 'handsome' couple their parents make. But nothing in the film can make us believe that Cliff has escaped his entombment, or that his family won’t quickly return to the frighteningly inattentive ways of old. There’s Always Tomorrow highlights the possibility of change, difference, and happiness, only to stage their ultimate denial. As Sirk himself somewhat bleakly suggested: 'I certainly believe happiness exists ... if only by the simple fact that it can be destroyed.' (10)