Directed by René Clair; produced by Arnold Pressburger
A reporter (Dick Powell), during a night of conviviality celebrating his promotion, wishes that he could learn of events beforehand. Despite the friendly warning of the newspaper’s archivist (John Philliber), Powell presses his wish, only to have the archivist deliver him the next day’s edition of their newspaper that night. Astonished, frightened and confused, Powell nonetheless uses the paper, and subsequent deliveries, to enhance his professional reputation and advance his personal life. But he soon learns that being able to see the future doesn’t mean knowing everything that will happen.
Some may recall the late 1990s tv series Early Edition. It was based on an identical premise as It Happened Tomorrow, and must have been inspired by the film. The movie itself is based on a play by Lord Dunsany, and is a very entertaining comedy fantasy, with a little bit of wisdom regarding the dangers of too much knowledge.
Powell was noted at this time for acting in comedies and musicals, though this would soon change drastically when he switched into the crime and film noir genre. It Happened Tomorrow was not quite his last light-hearted role; if he was tired of being cast in them, it doesn’t show here. His performance is spot on, as his character goes through the various stages that we all might experience in such fantastic circumstances. Linda Darnell plays his love interest, whom he meets, significantly, without the future newspaper’s help. Jack Oakie is close to being over the top as Darnell’s uncle, with whom she performs a fake psychic act, but instead, his style works. Veteran director Clair uses Oakie’s exuberance well by completely suppressing it at certain moments.
The setting is the 1890s and the story benefits from the era. The manners and mores of the characters are true to the decade, and they lead to some funny scenes (I chuckled aloud at the sight of the feet under Darnell’s bed). The writing is clever in how it arranges for the newspaper’s ‘predictions’ to come true (eg. the twist on Powell’s claim that he would ‘give ten years’ of his life to know the future), keeping the viewer guessing, and the actionful climax – with Powell’s comical initial belief in his invulnerability – is funny and exciting.
The only incongruous element in It Happened Tomorrow are the ‘book-ends’, which take place fifty years after the main story. Not only is this element unnecessary (though perhaps it was because film-goers at the time were as disconnected from the past as are their present counterparts), but it seems to take place in the future. Philliber, as the newspaper’s archivist, gestures toward the few bound copies of the journal that represent the twentieth century. This would place the ‘book-ends’ in at least 1950; the film was released in 1944. It may have been a further joke, to play with time in this fashion.
On the subject of time, It Happened Tomorrow is a movie that could be enjoyed by any era; a minor classic and timeless comedy, well-written, well-acted, well-directed.