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Trapped in a Tomb of Their Own Making: Max Ophuls's The Reckless Moment and Douglas Sirk's There's Always Tomorrow.

This essay came about because I was struck by the many similarities between Max Ophuls' 1949 film The Reckless Moment and Douglas Sirk's There's Always Tomorrow (1956). There are many parallels between the careers of Sirk and Ophuls. Both wartime emigres (Sirk arrived in the United States in 1939, Ophuls in 1941), each director came to Hollywood from a successful European filmmaking career and was best known for his work in melodrama.(1) Comparing two of their lesser-known American works, we find many parallels, beginning with their similar plots. In The Reckless Moment, wife and mother Joan Bennett, taken for granted by her family, is tempted by bad boy James Mason while she struggles to contain the potentially catastrophic sexuality of teenage daughter Bea. In Sirk's There's Always Tomorrow, husband and father Fred MacMurray, taken for granted by his family, is tempted by career woman Barbara Stanwyck while being stalked by his rabidly conservative, sex-despising teenage son played by William Reynolds (who played essentially the same part a year earlier in All That Heaven Allows).(2)

Both films confront the threatened breakdown of "the American home," and each does so with what might be called a "European" attitude.(3) The ideals of marital fidelity and a "happy ending" are read ironically, becoming demoralized depictions of surrender and defeat. In both films, families are depicted as organizations for the repression of sexuality, especially parental sexuality. In each film the ideal of the postwar American dream is undermined as the middle-aged middle-class protagonists come to recognize that they are trapped by their families in their model American homes.

The American concept of home itself collapses the social structure of the family with the construction of domestic space. As is common with melodrama, Ophuls's and Sirk's films show how the pressures of the family are made visible in the structure of the house itself. In each film, the "average" American house is portrayed by a glamorous Hollywood substitute. The promotion of postwar housing design mimics the promotion of stars, with star homes presented as a mix of ordinary/extraordinary that could be used to lure aspiring consumers.

Although the houses represented in the respective films would in reality have been far out of reach for the average middle-class family, Sirk and Ophuls would not have been naive to see Hollywood homes as a model for American housing. After all, these are the homes the emigre directors would have been most likely to encounter in America, not only through visiting friends in the industry but simply by virtue of living in Los Angeles. Ophuls's first residence in Hollywood was that classic southern Californian structure, the "two-room garden bungalow". After renting for six months, Ophuls moved with his family to a two-story fixer-upper in the Hollywood Hills (Bacher 30). His first paid writing assignment was completed at the Palm Springs house of friend and successful screenwriter Howard Koch (Bacher 36). Sirk was familiar with an arguably wider range of architectural styles, having had a chicken farm in the San Fernando Valley and an alfalfa ranch in Pomona before a seven year contract with Columbia landed him back in Los Angeles.

Every house in Hollywood comes with a celebrity provenance. Ophuls rented his bungalow from director Robert Siodmak. His house on Whitley Terrace was attached to an apartment rented by cameraman Eugen Schufftan (Bacher 30). Having a house was one of the things that inserted someone firmly within the celebrity community, all of whom had their own houses. For instance, Joan Bennett's daughter relates, "Our neighbors were Humphrey Bogart, Lana Turner, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby. The James Masons came every Sunday for supper and a movie in the screening room" (Aronson 300).

If a house was newly built, it was the architect who came with a list of celebrity clients: Bennett's house was designed by architect Wallace Neff (no relation to Double Indemnity's Walter Neff, played by Bennett's co-star in There's Always Tomorrow, Fred MacMurray).(4) Wallace Neff, the architect, has been described as "a pioneer of the eclectic southern California style, who designed or remodeled houses for Darryl F. Zanuck, Fredric March, King Vidor, Claudette Colbert, Louis B. Mayer, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford (the world-famous Pickfair) [and] every Marx brother short of Chico" (Aronson 300). Eclectic is the term most commonly used to describe Hollywood architecture's dominant style. Houses in Hollywood are often playing roles: Spanish influence, mock-Tudor, French provincial, the Spanish-Moorish-Italianate style of the 1920s. As with movie stars, star homes at best provide a self-conscious performance of the "ordinary."

The "star home" inserts a star in a network of other stars and other houses while standing in for the star and a star lifestyle. The home of Joan Bennett (who stars in both films under discussion) can serve as a case study. Bennett worked frequently with emigre directors. By the time she appeared in Ophuls's film, she had made five films with Fritz Lang and one with Jean Renoir. Although she specialized in seductresses for Lang (and played an adultress for Renoir), by the time of Ophuls's film in 1949 she was making the transition to playing idealized "mother" figures, something consolidated by two Father of the Bride films (1950 and 51) and repeated in Sirk's There's Always Tomorrow(5) Throughout all the phases of her career, whether as starlet, harlot, or matriarch, Bennett had an identity as a homeowner. Contemporary accounts describe the exterior architectural design and the interior decor of Bennett's house in terms of her body, disguise the labor involved in home construction by crediting Bennett with building and decorating her home, and go so far as to use Bennett's house as proof of her worth as a mother.

The depiction of Bennett as architect is echoed in the caption for an Architectural Digest spread which recounts how Bennett "embarked on the construction of [a] 14-room French provincial-style house" in the Holmby Hills (Aronson 173)(6) Later Bennett's house is described as one she "built for herself" (Aronson 300). Another caption exults, "Bennett's teenage ambition to be an interior decorator was realized at last" (Aronson 176). While the contributions of lesser lights are admitted as an aside - "She encountered 'builders, contractors, decorators, and all the attendant labors and pleasures of building a dream house'" (Aronson 173) - descriptions of the house echo the way people discuss stars, veering back and forth between extraordinary displays of wealth and attributes the average consumer could conceivably hope to have in her own home. With the lack of irony typical of fashion and lifestyle magazines the house is described thus: "A classic rectangle of whitewashed brick penetrated by loggias at the side and rear, it was notably restrained, strong and simple but at the same time sumptuous--elements of the interior, in fact, bore a resemblance to Versailles" (Aronson 300). The house itself seems to have borne a resemblance to Bennett. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. described the exterior as having "a glamourous profile--perhaps the beautiful Joan expressed in bricks and mortar" (Aronson 300).

Bennett's relation to her home helped her accomplish a feat nearly every actress in the postwar period was called upon to do: soft-pedalling her status as a working actress in order to stress her status as, literally, a homemaker. No less an arbiter of respectability than Louella Parsons would note: "I don't know any career woman who runs her home more efficiently." Bennett's success as a mother was confirmed by an event involving her house. One (somewhat catty) source recounts how "Bennett was lauded a model Hollywood mother when, awakened early on Mother's Day in 1943 by the smell of smoke, she grabbed her children before her jewel box" (Aronson 300). (Shades of Sigmund Freud's Dora: "A house was on fire ... Mother wanted to stop and save her jewel-case" [Freud 81]). Bennett described the ruins of the house in theatrical terms, saying it looked "like Wuthering Heights after a blitz." The fire compelled Bennett to rethink the interior decor--describing and designing it in relation to her body. She wrote, "When we redecorated after the fire, I changed all the coloring. I'd furnished the house when I was a blonde, and when I became a brunette [in the 40s], naturally the colors were no good with my dark hair. So I gave the house a brunette personality" (Aronson 300).

While this may seem a striking example of the professional vanity of an actress, it is perfectly in keeping with the design advice of the era. Writers on the period point out how "home magazines and their advertisements continually ... depicted housewives who were visually integrated into domestic backgrounds by color, shape, and size." In 1940, Louise Pinkey Sooy and Virgina Woodbridge's book Plan Your Own Home began by asking female readers:
 As the director of production, are you, the homemaker, creating a backdrop
 against which the story of your family life may be sympathetically and
 beautifully portrayed? (Spigel 1997, 220)


Some of these advice columns were written by set-decorators who worked with Douglas Sirk. One, entitled "Hollywood Set-Decorator Gives Tips on Home Beautifying," was written by Julia Heron, who (with Russell A. Gausman) co-designed the sets for both Written on the Wind and There's Always Tomorrow.(7) Circulated by Universal, Heron's pamphlet suggested that
 No matter how much you spend on your home, if it is not decorated correctly
 to match your personality, size, shape and coloring, then you can look like
 nothing in a $100,000 mansion.


Heron goes on to warn: "Just as you could look out of place in your own home if the interiors are all wrong, so can stars." As Barbara Klinger points out, "this type of article graced the pages of women's magazines in the 1950s, promoting a connection between film decor/ star fashion and the average home decor/female self-image" (59). Heron's "article continues to advise the average woman about the coordination of her figure type and coloring with interior decoration, thus making the decor of the film into a visual classroom offering home and personal appearance lessons" (Klinger 59).

Lynn Spigel expands on the re-conceptualization of the home as theatrical space even for those outside Hollywood. She points out how at the end of the 1940s, "manuals on architecture and interior decor adopted metaphors of theatricality when speaking about the home." In 1949 (the year of Reckless Moment) she notes, the designers of
 one upper-crust, planned community ... [based] the entire suburb around
 principles of theatrical design.... According to the Home section of The
 New York Times, the architects incorporated "many of the unusual features
 of the homes of Hollywoood stars." (1997, 221)


(It is not specified what these unusual features might be.)

Spigel relates how "numerous popular sources [of the day] conceptualized domestic life as a kind of stage." She cites "sociologist Nelson Foote," who wrote in 1955 that "'the family home may be most aptly described as a theatre'" (1997, 220). In fan magazines and decorating magazines of the period, consumers are urged to position themselves in their own homes the way an actress would on a set or (as with Bennett) as a star would in a photo spread on star homes.

Fan magazines encouraged readers to believe that the houses they saw in the magazines belonged not only to stars but could belong to the reader as well. In December of 1948 Photoplay held a contest to win a $10,000 dream house. The color drawing in the ad reveals a modest California-style bungalow, with four rooms that measure roughly 700 square feet.

Artist Mark Bennett (presumably no relation to Joan) has recently gotten much attention with his architectural blueprints of houses in classic TV sitcoms (Sharkey 30). The fictitious space Bennett memorializes is a performance space, a place where people act out the myth of the American Dream, the myth of a happy family. By emphasizing the space over the performance, Bennett pays tribute to the illusion that the home is not only a place where people are happy as a family, but that somehow it is the home that makes them happy. The blueprint becomes a kind of script, a diagram giving explicit instructions on how to build your own version of this space. Bennett's blueprints are a talisman, the cartographic proofs, documentation and trace of what was possible there. The floor-plan, walls, and decor not only absorb the happiness within but somehow magically produce it.

In Ophuls and Sirk, the houses produce something else. Both The Reckless Moment and There's Always Tomorrow are set in Southern California and immediately call into question the idealized image of California Hollywood had always presented to the rest of the country. At the beginning of The Reckless Moment, moments before a world of murder and blackmail will intrude, a narrator (never heard from again) notes, "The Harper family lived in a charming community called Balboa." Sirk's film begins even more ironically with a title card that reads, "Once upon a time in sunny California," only to cut to a crowded urban street, dark and pelted with rain.

While domestic dissatisfaction in The Reckless Moment is triggered by more extreme events (Bennett's character struggles to cover-up daughter Bea's accidental killing of an unsavory lover and finds herself being blackmailed by James Mason while her husband is away on an extended business trip), in both films it is the family that exerts the greatest pressures on the protagonist, albeit often unwittingly. In the process, however, distinctions between house and family are constantly blurred. With Bennett appearing in similar roles in both films, the distinction between Sirk's film and Ophuls's becomes blurred as well as characters in one film address the concerns of those in the other. In There's Always Tomorrow, householder Fred MacMurray tells his would-be lover Barbara Stanwyck,
 "After I called you I went home ... It's the same house I've lived in for
 years. I'd always felt comfortable there ... All of a sudden I felt
 desperate sitting in my own living room. I felt as though I were trapped in
 a tomb of my own making ... I had to escape because I was still alive.
 Alive and wanting you."


In The Reckless Moment, housewife Joan Bennett explains the pressures of the American home to blackmailer James Mason: "You don't know how a family can surround you at times," to which MacMurray in the other film responds (speaking to the same Bennett-idealized-housewife),
 "I'm tired of the children taking over, of being pushed aside, taken for
 granted.... Don't you ever want to get out of this house, move around?"


Mason repeats the question: "Do you never get away from your family?" To which Bennett simply replies, "No." Back in his model home, MacMurray paces the living room, drowning his restlessness with music from the latest radio console. Oppressed by the smiling faces of his perfect family, frozen forever in a picture-frame on the table, he snaps his newspaper to block out the view.

We never actually see the houses clearly from the outside; they are primarily interior spaces. Because the characters are trapped, they are more concerned with the particulars of the interior space. Each house seems to have an open floor plan, but the openness proves illusory, confining. As Spigel points out, "Women's home magazines, manuals on interior decor, and books on housing design all idealized the flowing, continuous space of California ranch-style architecture.... Continuous spaces allowed residents to exert a minimum of energy by reducing the need to move from room to room" (1992, 6). The protagonists of The Reckless Moment and There's Always Tomorrow, however, are constantly moving, wandering through a confusing space that is difficult to reconstruct on paper. The most notable feature of each house, which should come as no surprise, is the staircase. Site of crane shots and pans, restless camera movement which gives the illusion of mobility, the staircase is often the site of crisis, frustration, and the incomplete trajectories that enact the hesitation between demands of family and one's own desires.

As characters run up and down stairs, it is hard to miss the echoes across texts: the moments of exclusion as MacMurray wearily begins the climb toward the top of the stairs, a space that might be private or overrun with family, or Bennett's Lucy in The Reckless Moment slowly descending a similar staircase, alone but at constant risk of being interrupted. Or the ineffectual moments: Lucy stopped half-way up the stairs, trying to break up the fighting between the two teenagers above her on the landing as MacMurray in Sirk's film tries to speak on the phone, shoved into the lower corner of the frame while his daughter and wife run down the stairs shouting, arranging an evening without him. As a father, MacMurray's character is usually left behind, eagerly bounding up the stairs to give his wife flowers on their anniversary only to be shunted aside when a teenage daughter's sartorial crisis intervenes--or trailing behind another family crisis as wife Marion (Bennett) helps a daughter with a sprained ankle up the stairs. Across the way in The Reckless Moment, Lucy also shepherds a crying daughter up the stairs, nursing the girl's broken heart: "I'll get you a hot water bottle." As Grandfather says when he steps onto the landing at the sounds of commotion, "What's all this running up and down stairs?"

Mary Beth Haralovich points out,"the middle-class homemaker.... was promised psychic and social satisfaction for being contained within the private space of the home ... In exchange for being targeted, measured and analyzed for the marketing and design of consumer products, she was promised leisure and freedom from housework" (111). At the same time, however, women were segregated into "gender-specific functional spaces" (115). In both films, Bennett's character does have some freedom from housework, mostly because in both films she has a maid, but there is no mistaking the mental drudgery of the house- and family-related work the middle-class wife is still expected to perform--nor the gender-specific site in which she works.

There's Always Tomorrow and The Reckless Moment again present matching scenes as the housewife sits at her bedroom desk confronting the demands on her time. Marion begins by sighing:
 "Oh what a day I have tomorrow. The laundress is coming, I have to pick her
 up at the bus; return some books to the library; take Frankie to the
 dentist, do some shopping for the children...."


Lucy, head in hand, continues
 "...plus payment on house, plus taxes, plus telephone bill, plus piano....
 plus electric bill, plus water bill ..."


The centrality of the bedroom desk as a woman's workspace is confirmed by the fan magazine report that Bennett herself "routinely worked at her bedroom desk organizing clippings and publicity photos" (Aronson 177).(8) In The House and the Art of its Design, Robert Woods Kennedy "claimed that the housewife needed `an effective and glamorous background for her as a sexual being, commensurate with the amount of energy she expends on clothes, make-up, and society'" (Spigel 1997, 221). (Though in the Ophuls film, Lucy so far forgets herself as the model of a sexual being that she even wears glasses on a regular basis.) The Architectural Digest elegance--if not frivolity--of the boudoirsecretaire is undercut in both scenes by sighs and the same weary voice as "Joan Bennett housewife" contemplates an unending series of house and family-related tasks.

Although the Production Code was still in full force, both films view adultery as a welcome potential escape. And while in each film there is no adultery, there is an unmistakably urgent need to escape home and family, and it is illicit sexuality that promises to show the way out. Even by the standards of the Production Code, the potential affairs in both films are unusually circumscribed: Stanwyck and MacMurray kiss once and Bennett and Mason not at all. Much of the temptation offered resides in star personas, especially the perception of Mason and Stanwyck as essentially incompatible with the domestic scene. Mason's image in the late 1940s, much to the gratitude and excitement of his fans, was not remotely reconcilable with things domestic. When The Reckless Moment was released, Mason's star persona rested on the sadism, beatings, rapes, and knuckle-rapping of such British Gothics as The Man in Grey (1943), The Wicked Lady (1945), and The Seventh Veil (1945).(9) By the time of There's Always Tomorrow, Stanwyck was firmly ensconced in career woman roles where she is either unable to get married (Executive Suite [1954]), to remain faithful (The Violent Men [1955], All I Desire which she made with Sirk three years prior to There's Always Tomorrow), or wrenchingly unable to stay home (Fritz Lang's Clash by Night [1952]).(10) East Side, West Side (1949) finds Mason and Stanwyck unpersuasively married to each other: she is tempted to have a (healthy, restorative) affair with Van Heflin, while Mason is compulsively unfaithful with Ava Gardner.(11)

The "other woman" in Sirk's film and The Reckless Moment's "other man" are not only outside the family, they are outsiders in a literal sense. Associated with the outdoors, these figures give the oppressed householder an illusion of freedom. Barbara Stanwyck's "other woman" opens up a range of spaces outside the home for both Fred MacMurray and the film. When she asks his disapproving children, "if he was given love at home, why would he go outside?", "outside" can be taken literally. In addition to visiting sites associated with sex and fantasy such as hotels and the theatre, MacMurray and Stanwyck have an idyllic weekend in the fictitious desert resort "Palm Valley," where they swim, ride horses, and dance under the stars. The outside, however, is full of danger. As the poster illustrates, these idyllic settings are framed by the spikiest, darkest, and most threatening vegetation Sirk could arrange. In contrast, James Mason's "other man" in Ophuls's film never succeeds in fully opening up Joan Bennett's vistas. When they are in public--at a crowded bus station, in cars, on a ferry--Bennett feels exposed, afraid of being seen. At the same time, they are constantly hemmed in. On the ferry, for instance, they never leave the confined space of their car and only look at the water in time to see a police boat speeding by.

Once drawn outdoors, the protagonists of both films have a hard time going back into the house. They tend to linger in transitional areas like the front porch, shadowy exterior spaces where the stability of the home is at risk. In The Reckless Moment Mason crowds Bennett's Lucy out the front door onto a porch that is heavily shadowed by leaves. She resists, "I can't see you tomorrow," but he overrides her with "where shall we meet?" Lucy responds with an architectural imperative: "You can't come here. I won't have you in the house." They stop by a window framing a brightly lit home and hearth within. Lucy struggles to hold on to her vision of the house as refuge, a safe space she has been driven out of; MacMurray's Cliff sees it as a trap. When wife Marion finds Cliff on the porch she asks him, "why are you staying out here?" He responds curtly, "I didn't feel like going in the house just yet.... I just have a little headache ... I'll be in a minute. I want to get some air." The house is airless, the outside the only hope for escaping mental anguish. Marion accompanies Cliff on a stroll around the house's perimeter, pausing at a window that frames the family within. Cliff is unmoved. They walk on through shadows, Cliff's hat shielding his eyes, until the voice of one of the children calls Marion. She laughs, "It's always the children," and leaves. He does not follow but withdraws further into the shadows, pausing to think, alone outside in the dark.

The house as imperilled by exterior darkness is a common trope of film noir, where it stands in for the postwar American family. Noir elements are present in both films, especially The Reckless Moment. The eruption of murder, blackmail, and gangsters into the life of the "average American family" in sunlit Balboa combined with the dark hovering presence of the city (nearby Los Angeles) evokes noir aesthetics and thematics as much as those of domestic melodrama. The heavy air of sexual tension brought into the home by daughter Bea (hurrying down the heavily shadowed stairs at night, wrapped in a mink coat as she sneaks away from the domestic setting to meet an illicit lover) is transferred to her look-alike mother. Lucy, whose husband's prolonged absence evokes the upheaval of gender roles on the homefront during the war, finds herself tracing a path similar to Bea's--from L.A. to the front porch to the boathouse--with a man not her husband.

As the country moves further away from the war and the cultural and psychic responses to it inscribed in film noir, the fear, violence, and sense of crisis noir describes begin to fade. By the time of There Always Tomorrow in 1956 domestic space is once again the site of domestic-level problems, with the greatest threat coming from within as the characters confront disillusionments only available in peacetime. Sirk's film suggests that the shadows Cliff confronts are produced by the house, that the refuge is the trap. When Marion is called away in the scene on the porch, Cliff turns to confront the house, stepping back to get a good look, as far from its seductively glowing light as he can be, as the image fades to black.

Both films reflect a hostility to the emerging youth culture of the 1950s. While Cliff is constantly interrupted by the loud harsh voice of daughter Frankie (when he is not being stalked by his evil son Vinnie, played by Sirk's uber-teen William Reynolds), Lucy (enduring months if not years of enforced celibacy) is bombarded with the pubescent sexuality of her children. Daughter Bea's "art school" morality is symbolized by her inappropriate adult male lover, and son David will not keep his clothes on. (David's permanent state of undress is the cause of constant reprimands from his mother: "Put your shirt on, David," "Why aren't you wearing your slippers?" At one point, in the presence of Mason's character, she screams "David!" as he appears in a shirt and nothing else. He retorts in self-defense, "I've got my trunks on!" "Just once," she remarks with heartfelt emotion, "I'd like to see you fully dressed.") The antagonism against teens is more pronounced in Sirk.

If for Sartre hell is other people, for Sirk it is teenagers, and houses are where they thrive. The open floor plan of 1950s housing means there are no clear boundaries. While interior space is designed so that parents could keep an eye on their children, as those children become teens it is the parents who are open to surveillance. Lucy and Cliff surreptitiously attempt to make contact outside the home through the telephone, but technology fails them. He cannot take a call from Barbara Stanwyck's character at the office because his secretary might overhear; Lucy tries to make a call from a public phone booth but does not have enough change. Within the home, they are even less free to communicate. As Haralovich points out, "the open floor plan" was promulgated as being "therapeutic for the family." "With few walls separating living, dining, and kitchen areas, space was open for family togetherness" (119). Ophuls and Sirk, on the other hand, emphasize the lack of privacy as the characters are under constant threat of being overheard. Lucy, in a half-way space, framed at the bottom of the stairs, tries to make a call, asking the operator for a connection that is "person to person." But when she is asked to give her number (to identify herself), her father-in-law's voice intrudes from off-screen. Lucy hangs up and obeys the off-screen voice, walking through a swinging door that is never really open and never firmly shut. In a parallel scene, Cliff hesitates as he lifts the receiver at the bottom of the stairs (open to the family upstairs) and moves to the phone in the other room. Wearing a bathrobe, sitting in a high angle shot in the shadow of the "decorative" domestic bars, Cliff is defeated before he starts. As he asks the operator for Norma's room, Vinnie walks in the front door and overhears him. "Hello, Norma? This is Cliff. I want to see you tomorrow. I have to see you."

Because of overwhelming social pressures, the "other woman" and "other man" ultimately take conservative positions, arguing on behalf of returning home. Conflicts within themselves are expressed as self-loathing. In The Reckless Moment, Mason's Donnelly prevents Lucy from confessing to the police to save an innocent man: "What's the use of sacrificing your family for a man that's no good, that deserves what's coming to him?" These words reflect on Mason's blackmailer character as well, as he tells her near the end, "the police know what I am." (He turns the screw tighter when he reminds her, "how about your family? How would it be for them?"). Norma's capitulation is even more forceful.

Standing together in front of a rain-covered window, Norma reminds Cliff of all that he will miss of family life: being excluded from Vinnie's graduation, daughter Frankie's ballet recitals, and Ellen's marriage. Voicing the imagined disdain of others, she mimics: "`No, her father isn't here. He ran away with another woman, don't you remember? At his age. Oh, the poor kid.' Oh, face it, Cliff! I've had to face it." She reminds him of how much he has shared with Marion and concludes, "She's the one who belongs in your life. Your first love. And that's the way it should be. It's such a good life."

In both cases, the outsiders eliminate themselves in order to return wandering spouses to domestic space. Both foreclose the path of escape as the spouses are left with the false choice of "voluntarily" returning home or accepting total loss. As means of transportation ironically trap the outsiders (Mason is pinned under a car, Stanwyck cornered in a claustrophobic airplane), any chance of escape is removed and MacMurray and Bennett are ushered back into the fold.

Drawn back into her family by a telephone call, Lucy slowly descends the stairs, informed by Bea of Donnelly/Mason's death. Compelled to put on a brave face by the presence of son and father-in-law, she encloses herself behind the stair railings and turns her face away as she takes the phone: "Everything's fine except ... we miss you terribly. Yes, Tom ..."

As Norma flies away, tortured by the strains of "Blue Moon" ("their" song), Cliff watches the plane from an open doorway, then resignedly closes himself in. Marion comes to collect him, ushering him back into the home through the pronounced shadows of domestic space. The children assort themselves behind the decorative railings, gazing out at their vision of domestic bliss. "They make a handsome couple, don't they?"

As Stanwyck's character says, "It's such a good life." While "all this running up and down stairs" provides an illusion of getting somewhere, the open floor plan of the model home calls attention to the characters' confinement. In Ophuls and Sirk, the American home is a wide open space that carries its own bars.

Notes

(1) Sirk's first film in the United States was made late in 1942, Ophuls's in 1947.

(2) Stern labels Reynolds Sirk's "brutal avatar of social convention" (127).

(3) Ophuls selected writers who specialized in "this kind of upper middle class suburban family" in order to create "an implicit critique of upper middle class values" (Bacher 270). There's Always Tomorrow has also been called "a thoroughly materialistic analysis of a man's life in terms of home, job, family and socioeconomic class," and consequently "a devastating commentary on bourgeois life" (Basinger 124).

(4) Double Indemnity was directed by another German emigre whose films are filled with barbed comments on Los Angeles architecture, Billy Wilder. When Walter Neff first drives up to the Diedrichson house, he describes it as "one of those Spanish-style houses everyone was crazy about ten years ago." In Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950), Joe Gillis describes Norma Desmond's house at length when he first arrives. When his wholesome girlfriend, Betty Shaeffer, arrives late in the film, she snaps, "I didn't come here to see a house."

(5) In 1951, two years after the Ophuls film, Bennett was the focus of her own scandal in which she was cast as the straying wife, tempted by lover Jennings Lang who is shot by irate husband Walter Wanger. In this one, Bennett completed the story the way the characters Lucy and Cliff do in their respective films by meekly returning home to her spouse in 1953. In an interview Bennett noted that "before December 13, 1951, I'd made 65 films in 23 years, while in the decade that followed I made five" -- one of them Sirk's (Aronson, 300).

(6) Aronson notes that Bennett was "at the time a divorced mother of two" (173).

(7) There's Always Tomorrow was shot in spring 1955 and released in February, 1956. It shares art directors, set designers, and director of photography Russell Metty with All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind, and like All That Heaven Allows, was produced by Ross Hunter (Halliday 166-67).

(8) After the fire destroyed memorabilia covering "fourteen years of [her] career," Bennettt proclaimed she "never [again] collected so much as a scrap" (Aronson, 300).

(9) Charting Mason's progress through Hollywood over the next decade we find that too much time at home (the humiliations of enforced domesticity) drives him to suicide in A Star is Born (1954), causes excruciating unexplainable pain in Nicholas Ray's Bigger than Life (1956), and then of course there's Lolita (1962). To a great extent, Mason's star power indirectly resulted in Ophuls being chosen to direct The Reckless Moment. Jean Renoir was set to direct as "part of the package with Bennett and Mason, mainly because Mason, who had director approval, had requested him." When Harry Cohn at Columbia cut the fee below Renoir's level, Ophuls stepped in, the fourth choice, after Anthony Mann and Andre de Toth (Bacher 264).

(10) Stanwyck and MacMurray made four films together, most notably Double Indemnity (1944). Despite that film, MacMurray is customarily employed to express a kind of earnest buoyancy. One critic has remarked of his excellent performance in There's Always Tomorrow that "the buoyancy is there, but, as MacMurray plays it, it seems forced. It is as if in playing Clifford Groves he is striving for the carefree spirit of so many of his roles during the 1940s and early 1950s, but cannot achieve it. As the film proceeds, his earnestness turns to an image of despair" (Stem 124).

(11) David Thomson calls The Reckless Moment Bennett's "most searching performance," though he does not mention There's Always Tomorrow or Sirk (55).

Works Cited

Aronson, Steven M.L. "Joan Bennett: Star of The Woman in the Window and Father of the Bride in Holmby Hills." Architectural Digest 53.4: 172-76, 300.

Bacher, Lutz. Max Ophuls in the Hollywood Studios. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1996.

Freud, Sigmund. Dora: An Analysis or a Case of Hysteria. New York: MacMillan, 1963.

Halliday, Jon. Sirk on Sirk: Interview with Jon Halliday. New York: Viking Press, 1972.

Haralovich, Mary Beth. "Sit-coms and Suburbs: Positioning the 1950s Homemaker." Private Screenings. Eds. Lynn Spigel and Denise Mann. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1992:110-141.

Klinger, Barbara. Melodrama and Meaning: History, Culture, and the Films of Douglas Sirk. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1994.

Sharkey, Betsy. "Fantasy Worlds, Complete with Sinks and Closets." The New York Times August 3, 1997, Art section: 30.

Spigel, Lynn. "From Theatre to Space Ship: Metaphors of Suburban Domesticity in Postwar America." Visions of Suburbia. Ed. Roger Silverstone. London: Routledge, 1997: 217-239.

--. "Installing the Television Set." Private Screenings: Television and the Female Consumer. Eds. Lynn Spigel and Denise Mann. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1992: 2-39.

Stern, Michael. Douglas Sirk. Boston: Twagne Publishers, 1979. Thomson, David. "Lazy Legs." Film Comment 27.2 (1991): 54-55.

Amy Lawrence is Professor of Film Studies at Dartmouth College. She is the author of The Films of Peter Greenaway (1998) and Echo and Narcissus: Women's Voices in Classical Hollywood Film (1991). She has also written on animation and gender.
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Author:Lawrence, Amy
Publication:Film Criticism
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 1999
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