For Film Comment: On Faulkner’s Tomorrow (1972), starring Robert Duvall

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I wrote about the 1972 film Tomorrow, a Horton Foote adaptation of a William Faulkner story, starring Robert Duvall (same year as The Godfather) for Film Comment. It’s screening on TCM this month. Years ago, I remember my father talking to me about Duvall’s performance in this, only my dad couldn’t remember the title, and I hadn’t seen it yet and there was no Internet so I couldn’t help him out. But Dad had such a love for this performance. He may not have remembered the title, but he remembered the plot, and boy, did he remember Duvall. Years later I saw the film and realized within the first 5 minutes that this was the movie Dad had been talking about.

Today is Robert Duvall’s birthday as well, so the whole assignment has had a very pleasing symmetry.

Here’s my Film Comment essay on Tomorrow (1972).

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8 Responses to For Film Comment: On Faulkner’s Tomorrow (1972), starring Robert Duvall

  1. Stevie says:

    Beautifully written, Sheila.

  2. Few actors could have given as powerful a performance.

  3. Todd Restler says:

    Great recommendation Sheila, and terrific write-up. I admit after a year of Doctor Strange and Rogue One, it took me a bit to settle into the pace and rhythm of this film. Once I did I found it very rewarding. The look of the movie was unique; I really felt the cold in that cabin. (Did it influence The Hateful Eight I wonder?) A simple story but ultimately very powerful. The movie really snuck up on me. Duvall was terrific of course.

    It’s fun to go back and watch a movie like this. The DNA of Tender Mercies is obviously there, in terms of pacing and structure, and of words left unsaid as well as spoken. Fans of that movie will probably like this one.

    But the movie that it really reminded me of was Sling Blade, so much so that I thought Billy Bob Thornton must have been influenced. A search led me to an BOMB Magazine article where BBT was interviewed after Sling Blade, and like me the interviewer saw the connection. BBT had seen the movie and while he didn’t note it as directly influencing Sling Blade, he did have high praise:

    JB Did you ever see that movie Tomorrow by Joseph Anthony?

    BBT Oh, I love that movie.

    JB Best movie ever. Something about the light, it was really like the way it looks down south. Even though the film is black and white.

    BBT It’s true. That was a terrific movie, golly, one of my favorites. It came out in ’72, but I didn’t see it until 1988. But I flipped out when I finally did see it.

    JB It seems like it’s in your vein. Especially if you like someone like Erskine Caldwell.

    BBT Sure, it was based on a Faulkner short story, and then Horton Foote wrote the screenplay and Duvall plays the main character. All the best guys in one movie.

    JB You think of novels, how everything falls into tidy classifications: southern regional writers, like Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor. You could do the same thing with films, only no one ever thinks of it that way. Sling Blade reminded me in some way of Tomorrow. The light definitely reminded me of being in Arkansas. And the slow pacing, it’s kind of gentle.

    BBT That’s the only way I want to do movies, more like a book on film than a movie. In movies, everything’s supposed to be cinematic and shouldn’t have all that talking, but that’s what I like. I like characters.

    JB It’s a lot more memorable than fancy camera moves.

    BBT I learned a little bit about lenses and things like that. It was half-ass interesting to me, but at the end of the day, I really didn’t care. If the emotional content is there in a scene, that’s all that’s important to me.

    • sheila says:

      Todd – Very glad you saw it! It’s really something special.

      // I admit after a year of Doctor Strange and Rogue One, it took me a bit to settle into the pace and rhythm of this film. //

      Oh dear. Yes, you want to watch out for that!

      // Did it influence The Hateful Eight I wonder? //

      If so, then I don’t think QT quite understood the movie. Or how to create and utilize a dramatic setting.

      Thanks for that interview with BBT! I definitely thought BBT had basically stolen Duvall’s voice/prosody for Sling Blade so it’s interesting to hear his thoughts on that. He knew everything about the movie – and it’s also interesting because Tomorrow is this Holy Grail type movie – for years, it was impossible to find. My dad had seen it on TV and never forgot it – but before the Internet you were really stuck if you wanted to track something down again.

      But it has a quiet authenticity that is very rare – especially in films that take place in the South. It’s not condescending. I think that’s one of the issues with adapting Faulkner for the screen, as Horton Foote notes in that quote I included in the piece. The attitude is always wrong.

      Robert Duvall is not a Southerner – although he’s played so many of them! He has a great respect for the culture, I think – part of his empathy as an actor, his broad-mindedness about people. You can really see that in Tender Mercies and you can really see why he and Horton Foote were kindred spirits.

  4. Todd Restler says:

    Oh I MAKE myself watch older movies sometimes to try to stave off the ADD that Michael Bay and Paul Greengrass seem to insist I get.

    By total coincidence Sling Blade was on last night and I watched the 2nd half. Still a great movie, and I miss John Ritter. Great “kid” performance from Lucas Black. But boy it’s hard not to think BBT cribbed his entire performance from Tomorrow, even if he won’t admit it. Not that there is anything wrong with that, I guess. I mean what’s he supposed to say? And I totally forgot that Robert Duvall played Karl’s father in Sling Blade! That’s a pretty strong sign to me.

    And your not a Hateful Eight fan, huh?! That movie is nothing if not polarizing. I disliked it the first time but felt immediately that I would like it more the 2nd time, and I’ve now seen it a bunch of times and love it. (I have re-watching issues, which is why I don’t see nearly enough new stuff!) But no arguments if anyone hates that movie, there is plenty to hate.

    Of course it has nothing in common with Tomorrow, and EVERYTHING influenced Hateful Eight, but the visceral feeling of cold and wet permeating a snowbound cabin, and people huddling around a wood burning stove, just seemed a bit similar to me.

    • sheila says:

      // Oh I MAKE myself watch older movies sometimes //

      I am the opposite. I am so used to the pacing in old movies (which is much more efficient, even if it’s slower) that I am often viscerally irritated by the quick pace of new movies – it feels lazy to me – like everyone knows there’s not much substance but as long as they keep quick-cutting nobody will notice.

      and yeah, the voice in Sling Blade is a total steal, the more I think about it. In Duvall it sounds organic, though. With BBT I’m not so sure. Cosign on John Ritter! He was so good in that!!

      I’m okay with Hateful 8. But I don’t think he used that set well at all – and I don’t understand why you would pick wide-screen technology to do a movie that takes place entirely inside. This is what happens when you get so big that nobody says No to you anymore. He needs some naysayers around him. His 2 films before that were brilliant – his best – so Hateful 8 just feels like a weird egomaniacal self-indulgent glitch. We’ll see.

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