Written by Raquel Stecher
“There are no strangers on Christmas Eve.” - Michael O’Brien (Charles Winninger)
If you love The Christmas Carol but are looking for something a little different this holiday season, look no further than Beyond Tomorrow. This understated independent Christmas movie explores themes of generosity, community, and connection. Directed by A. Edward Sutherland and based on an original story by Mildred Cram and Adele Comandini, Beyond Tomorrow follows the story of three overworked engineers who are in desperate need of a break and some Christmas cheer. Led by the jolly Michael (Charles Winninger), George (Harry Carey) and Allan (C. Aubrey Smith), all put $10 in each of their wallets and throw them out their window, hopeful that whoever finds them will return them to the home and join them for a Christmas gathering. Two benevolent souls, Southern crooner James (Richard Carlson) and school teacher Jean (Jean Parker) fall for the trio’s benevolent scheme and join them. The group soon bond. As time progresses, James and Jean fall in love but the trio unfortunately die in a plane crash. They return as ghosts hoping to help the two lovebirds who have fallen astray.
This is a tenderhearted fable that deserves a place in the Christmas film canon. Unfortunately critics didn’t take kindly to the film upon release but there is something to be said for indie films with heartfelt themes (It’s a Wonderful Life anyone?). According to Christmas movie expert and film historian Jeremy Arnold, Beyond Tomorrow was praised for its technical achievement of depicting the ghosts on screen: “the effects were created not by double exposures but by filming reflections of actors in mirror-image sets through angled glass — an age-old magic technique known as Pepper’s Ghost.” Beyond Tomorrow was the first film produced by cinematographer Lee Garmes’ new production company Academy Productions. It was distributed by RKO. Strangely enough, some Christmas themed films, and this one leans heavily on the holiday, were released at odd times of the year. Beyond Tomorrow made its debut in May of 1940 but probably would have fared better with a Christmas release. The film was revived decades later with the new title Beyond Christmas.
The most notable stars of the film are Winninger, Carey and Smith, who serve as a sort of Three Wise Men or Three Ghosts of Christmas in the film. Winninger has some “winning” lines and his character really drives home the film’s central theme of reaching out to others and building meaningful connections. It is also fun to see a very young Richard Carlson, who would go on to star in such science fiction classics as Creature from the Black Lagoon and It Came from Outer Space, play a cowboy crooner.
Beyond Tomorrow is available now on The Film Detective app as part of the 25 Days of Christmas Classics. Watch here