Release Date(s)1939 (May 9, 2023)
Studio(s)Ciné-Alliance/Inter-Artistes Films/Gaumont (Kino Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B-
Max Ophüls was born in Germany but is chiefly remembered for the films he made in France, particularly during the 1950s when he made, among others, La Ronde (1950), The Earrings of Madame de... (1953), and Lola Montés (1955), the latter Ophüls’s final work before his premature death at 54 in 1957. There’s No Tomorrow (Sans lendemain, or “Short-Lived,” 1939), a less-known earlier work in the Poetic Realism style, operates from a Stella Dallas-type premise that would imply some kind of Gallic mawkish melodrama about a self-sacrificing mother, but Ophüls’s film is far superior to Hollywood films of this type. It’s more adult, its emotions ring truer, and at the center of it is a startling good performance by Edwige Feuillère, a Claudette Colbert-type actress I was only vaguely familiar with only because so few of her films are available in the U.S., even though she was active until 1995.
The film opens with flashy, Hollywood-style streamline moderne titles suggesting a lighthearted Astaire-Rogers musical. In pre-war Paris, at a popular but disreputable nightclub, Evelyn “Babs” Morin (Feuillère) is the star attraction. Unlike the other dancers, headliner Babs is cool and sophisticated, a fallen member of the bourgeois, with many suitors. She uses her income to send her young son, Pierre (Michel François), to boarding school, though as the story begins he has been shipped back home; he got into trouble deliberately, so that he could spend time with his beloved mother.
Outside the club Babs bumps into a long-lost love, Dr. Georges Brandon (George Rigaud), a Frenchman now living in Canada. Unable to admit to her current life in the gutter, she borrows a fortune from gangster Paul Mazaraud (Georges Lannes), she claiming Brandon is a mark in a big-time swindling scheme she has cooking; she uses Mazaraud’s ill-gotten funds to rent a swanky apartment, all part of an elaborate charade to convince Brandon that she’s doing just fine, thank you.
Mazaraud eagerly embraces the plan, but demands to be repaid—with considerable interest—within days. Her closest friend, show business colleague Henri (well played by Paul Azaïs), thinks Babs has gone mad. She couldn’t pay Mazaraud back in a year, let alone a few days; what does she think will happen to her when he discovers she’s only using his money to deceive a long-lost lover? Why does she love Georges that much? What could have separated them in the first place?
Flashbacks answer many of these questions without lessening the unbearable suspense of Babs’s seemingly hopeless, fatal arrangement. Its nearly foregone conclusion is not that far removed from Hollywood’s “weepies,” but it’s grounded in an emotional honesty that packs a much greater punch. What’s powerful is that while Babs has endured through multiple tragedies and seemingly has no future, her determination to take control of what may be her final days among the living is peculiarly inspiring. Did Parisians draw parallels to the impending Nazi occupation of France?
There are emblematically Ophülsian touches throughout, notably the nightclub scenes (Eugene Lourie was one of the production’s designers), which spring to vibrant life with Ophüls’s fluid camerawork. If you think Martin Scorsese’s nightclub scene in GoodFellas was without precedent, take a gander at what Ophüls was doing half a century earlier. While Hollywood’s Production was in full-swing, with even Tarzan being emasculated to a life of domesticity, in There’s No Tomorrow the nightclub dancers go topless. The film has also been, accurately, described as “proto-noir,” anticipating French crime dramas of the ‘40s and ’50s more than Hollywood noir.
Edwige Feuillère, as good an actress as Colbert with the kind of innate sadness of Édith Piaf, is remarkable. Babs’s showbiz scenes, scenes giving her son a bath, her impulsive and suicidal scheming to fool Georges, her facing up to physical threats and abuse—at all times Feuillère projects the absolute emotional truth of each moment.
The entire cast is excellent. I was surprised to see actor George Rigaud; the distinguished-looking, later gray-haired Argentinian became a familiar presence in multilingual European productions of the ‘60s and ‘70s, including Grand Slam (in which he was very good), Horror Express, and The Case of the Bloody Iris. He’s instantly recognizable but almost inconceivably young.
Licensed to Kino by Gaumont, which did a full restoration of the picture, There’s No Tomorrow is presented in its original, black-and-white, 1.37:1 screen shape, the image excellent for a late-‘30s French offering. The DTS-HD Master Audio (2.0 mono in French only) is also above average, and the optional English subtitles are excellent. The disc is Region “A” encoded.
Supplements consist of a French trailer and a good audio commentary track by Adrian Martin.
An impressively lavish production with adult themes that still resonate today, There’s No Tomorrow is strongly recommended.
- Stuart Galbraith IV