It Happened Tomorrow (René Clair / U.S., 1944):

René Clair opens with a starched whiff of the Lubitsch of Heaven Can Wait, then proceeds with the analysis of visionary whimsy as the basis of his cinema. Dick Powell is a fin de siècle reporter, upgraded from obituaries to news stories; "time is an illusion," he declares to old colleague John Philliber, who magically presents him with the evening edition of the following day's newspaper. The main article details an opera house robbery while the tenor trills on stage, so Powell rushes to the scene before the event takes place -- the crime is briefly seen through a door's circular window, presented like a bit of silent film encircled by the iris. The scoop snatches Powell top honors at the paper, but incriminates him in the eyes of inspector Edgar Kennedy; later, he courts wealth by checking on the results of the horse races, only to discover that his own death has made the front page. The premise, with H.G. Wells behind it and Rod Sterling ahead, illustrates the director's view of his medium as a playground of visions, a mise-en-scène emerging out of a synergy of stage trickery and unfathomable magic: Linda Darnell, the niece of magician Jack Oakie, predicts a woman's accident and leaves to jump into the river and fulfill her prophecy. Clair's camera expands on the themes of misdirection (written with Dudley Nichols) via agilely constructed daisy-chain gags -- Darnell loses her shoe, emerges out of a carriage with bowler hat and mannish clothes, sneaks into her home and is mistaken for a burglar and then a slut by Oakie, who bounds out the window to chase the nonexistent lover before being himself mistaken for a thief. "Everything is an illusion in my profession," Oakie tells Powell while loading real bullets into his prop pistol, "in the end we live in reality." The hero races across building roofs and down chimneys for his appointment with fate, and the serendipity of their lives is finally contemplated from the perspective of the characters' fiftieth anniversary together, with fantasy more evanescent than ever. With Edward Brophy, George Cleveland, and Sig Ruman. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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