Robert Duvall’s own favorite performance is handled with some care by B2MP on Blu-ray
Originally based on a short story by the great Southern writer William Faulkner, Tomorrow is a haunting tale of love and loss. Directed by Joseph Anthony and headlined by two stellar performances from Robert Duvall and Olga Bellin, a solitary caretaker in rural Mississippi takes in an abandoned pregnant woman he discovers on his land. Faulkner’s story was adapted with great care by screenwriter Horton Foote, the two-time Oscar winner most known for the screenplay of To Kill a Mockingbird. Tomorrow is a devastating tale of pathos and gripping drama, that sucks a viewer into its black-and-white world of a distant time and place.
Tomorrow is a slow boiler, opening with a trial that becomes hung due to one obstinate man, Jackson Fentry (Robert Duvall). The Academy Award-winning actor claimed this was possibly his favorite performance, as an isolated man overseeing a sawmill and coming across a pregnant woman on his property. Tomorrow answers why Fentry refused to clear a man of murdering Buck Thorpe, by all accounts a no-good scoundrel with a troubled history. The rest of the jury had agreed it was self-defense but Fentry refused to go along.
The narrative goes back over twenty years before the trial, when Fentry was living on his own in rural Mississippi. He is a quiet, hard-working man that lives on his own as a caretaker for a remote sawmill. Away from any semblance of civilization, Fentry discovers an abandoned pregnant woman on his property on the eve of Christmas. Sarah (Olga Bellin) has run away from her family and been abandoned by her husband. Fentry soon discovers she is three months pregnant with nowhere to go. The kind man takes her in and promises she can stay in his cabin until the baby is delivered.
Sarah is frail during her stay, much weaker than a normal pregnant woman. Over the winter, Fentry takes complete care of her in his small wood shack. The natural course of events take place and he begins to fall in love with Sarah, asking for her hand in marriage despite knowing she already has a husband. Sara appreciates Fentry’s care but the religious woman lives in a time and place when marriages weren’t easily broken, except by death. She clearly has feelings for the kind, simple caretaker but continues to rebuff his marriage proposal.
It would be a shame to know anything more of the plot in advance. It includes a number of wrenching emotional developments that have tragic consequences for Fentry, a good man that briefly gets to enjoy love and life before outside forces conspire against him. Both Duvall and Bellin are masterful in their roles. The less-heraled Olga Bellin gives an Oscar-worthy performance as the sickly pregnant woman, done with subtle eye movements and tender mannerisms. It is one of the more nuanced acting performances I’ve ever seen committed to film. Duvall received a lot of praise from critics over his performance in Tomorrow and rightly so, but Bellin stole the show for my money. From touching and sentimental to a deeply bittersweet conclusion, it is a haunting experience.
Tomorrow turns into it an overlooked gem of Southern historical drama that deserves a wider audience. Capturing the zeitgeist of an era in perfect detail through its tragic and tender story, Tomorrow should be seen by everyone with an appreciation for dramatic cinema.
Distributor B2MP claims this Blu-ray features a “new high definition transfer from 35mm elements” for Tomorrow. Currently an exclusive to their website, the 102-minute main feature is encoded in AVC at an average bitrate of 25 Mbps. Confined to a BD-25, the grainy black-and-white cinematography has some mild compression issues. Hints of posterization and some compression noise are evident, which is unfortunate in 2014. Throwing a BD-50’s capacity at the dense grain structure would have likely eliminated those issues.
Tomorrow’s first Blu-ray edition is presented in a 1.78:1-framed widescreen aspect ratio. The 1972 film first arrived on DVD over ten years ago in an open-matted 1.33:1 presentation. It is hard to find definitive proof one way or the other of the intended composition by its director of photography, Alan Green. That older DVD’s open-matte transfer was likely struck for television distribution, so I would not assume it’s the correct presentation. Tomorrow was not a huge Hollywood production but having been shot on 35mm film, intending it for widescreen would almost have been a certainty in 1972 if the producers had any theatrical aspirations. I have not personally seen the open-matte version but this Blu-ray’s widescreen presentation does not give away any problems due to its tighter framing.
The new transfer itself comes from a somewhat dusty print, varying in condition over the course of the film. The first couple of reels have a bit of wear to them, including a faint gate scratch that runs vertically on the right side of the screen. It is not up to the pristine, archival quality of the best film restorations, though the 1080p video has a satisfactory level of definition. The dense grain structure can get a bit messy at times, limiting the native resolution. The picture quality does improve later in the movie, leading to more detail and better clarity. While the transfer has not been hit with digital noise reduction, there are small indicators of slight ringing.
Tomorrow’s cinematography was not intended as demo material. It is frequently soft and occasionally includes hot white levels, clipping lighter details. Black levels are acceptable, if not quite the inky blackness and velvety shadow detail we’ve come to expect from the best film transfers. This is a satisfactory presentation of very rough and limited visuals, purposely shot to evoke a certain historical period in the South. There are minor to moderate improvements in texture and clarity over DVD.
Tomorrow has a limited 2.0 PCM soundtrack featuring a thin mono mix. The dialogue-driven movie has sound design closer to a television production than a true theatrical film, limited in both scope and impact. The mono sound is reedy and boxy, though it does cleanly present intelligible dialogue.
English subtitles are the only subtitle option, rendered in a yellow font. The packaging claims they are English SDH but a cursory inspection reveals ordinary English subtitles.
This exclusive combo set, only found on B2MP’s website, includes both a Blu-ray and DVD version of the film. It does not retain a few special features found on the older Home Vision Entertainment’s DVD. Packaged in a normal Amaray Keep Case holding both discs.
Theatrical Trailer (01:58 in upscaled HD) – The trailer looks to have been sourced from a VHS tape, it runs down a long list of critical acclaim received by the film.
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.