When Tomorrow Dies
1965, Starring Patricia Gage, Douglas Campbell, Neil Dainard. Directed by Larry Kent.
In his first two films, Larry Kent tackled the inherent problems of marriage from a distinctly male point of view, often to the detriment of his female characters. In The Bitter Ash, a girl tries to trick her boyfriend into financially supporting her through wedlock by faking a pregnancy, while in Sweet Substitute, Kent tries to liberate sex from what he sees as the oppressive societal rites of marriage and parenthood. With 1965's When Tomorrow Dies, Kent's last film made on his home soil of Vancouver, the groundbreaking director attempts to make amends for the borderline misogyny that weaves its way through his early work, showing the entanglements of marriage from the perspective of a sympathetic female character.
Gwen (Patricia Gage) is a Vancouver housewife on the edge. Between visiting her father in a nursing home, tending to household chores and raising her teenage daughter Elaine, the frazzled homemaker is fed up with the sterility of her life. When Gwen's hotshot executive husband Doug (Douglas Campbell) comes home one night to find that she hasn't started dinner yet, a screaming match ensues in which she confesses her dissatisfaction. Unsympathetic to her problems, Doug reluctantly agrees to let Gwen take a few courses at the local university, all the while secretly hoping that his wife is just going through a phase.
After the death of her father, Gwen sinks further into depression and becomes involved with her Canadian literature professor Patrick Trevelyan (Neil Dainard). Things progress from a drink after class to dinner and a trip to the beach, during which Gwen catches her daughter making out with a boy. Although suddenly aware of her own moral transgression, Gwen sees a reflection of her own misery in Elaine, and after another fight with her husband, she agrees to go sailing on Professor Trevelyan's yacht. When Trevelyan finally makes his move, he is rebuffed as Gwen has visions of a loveless marriage with her professor, and realizes that she must return to the safety of her life with Doug.
Although soon outdone by 1968's High, an ode to the free love and drugs of the burgeoning hippie movement, When Tomorrow Dies ranks among Kent's trippiest films. Kent musters all he has learned in the past few years to ambitiously delve into the workings of Gwen's mind, as the film's frequent dream sequences, expressive camera work and bubbly jazz soundtrack give weight to her mid-life crisis in a way that was missing in his past films. Unfortunately, while the director has technically and artistically outgrown the verit style of his first two outings, his screenwriting and focus have not When Tomorrow Dies explores precisely the same issues about marriage Kent exhaustively detailed in his earlier films.
Even looking at the problem from the other side of the gender divide does not help differentiate this film from The Bitter Ash or Sweet Substitute. Like Cin㹶pix's pioneering maple syrup porn Valrie, When Tomorrow Dies is ostensibly a morality tale. Gwen's redemption comes when she realizes the folly of her affair, and returns to her husband to try and start anew. Although Doug callously scoffs at her depression, he is portrayed as basically a good guyhe goes along with Gwen's plans even though he doesn't agree with them, until she violates his trust. In light of his other films, When Tomorrow Dies seems to suggest that the women who use marriage to force men to support them are the ones who end up unhappy. While the husband adjusts to a life of supporting his wife, the novelty of being a kept woman quickly wears off and the housewife seeks love elsewhere.
Like his earlier works, Kent is completely unselfconscious about making a Canadian film, and continues to use recognizable Vancouver locations and local actors to provide an engaging backdrop for the film. Kent gave many well-known Canadian actors their first roles, and this film is no exception. Patricia Gage later made a name for herself in Rabid, and Neil Dainard, who appeared in a handful of Canadian B-films like American Nightmare and The Incubus went on to fill out a similarly impressive rsum. Also of interest is a brief lecture on Canadian literature delivered by Professor Trevelyan, a scene that clearly announces the film's nationality.
While it isn't as damning of females as The Bitter Ash and Sweet Substitute, which suggest that females get what they deserve, When Tomorrow Dies is not a pro-feminist film by any stretch of the imagination, and the viewer has a hard time buying Kent's adopted female point of view. While When Tomorrow Dies represents a turning point for Kent, one in which his improving technique as a director would lead him into new themes and plots, the film itself is easily the weakest of Kent's early efforts.