A Dickensian Christmas ghost story of New York rather than London, Beyond Tomorrow (1940) introduces us to two old gents (Harry Carrey as George Melton & C. Aubrey Smith as Alan 'Chad' Chadwick) who run the engineering firm of Chadwick, Melton & O'Brien. They are working along with their secretaries right into the Christmas holiday, oblivious to the Christmas spirit. They're not grinches & scrooges, but they have no families apart form their business.
A thirt partner, Michael O'Brien (Charles Winninger), barges in with packages & a happy mood & forces his busy partners to acknowledge the holidays & liberate the staff. He has invited friends just back from India for an Xmas gathering, so everyone must hurry & prepare for an unexpected get-together later that evening.
Their "hostess," as they prefer to regard their housekeeper-cook, is always addressed as Madame Tanya (Marie Ouspenskaya) & in no way treated like a servant. She's an aging member of dwindling European royalty. Far from carrying any haughtiness from days of grandeur, she is a mothering sort who considers herself fortunate to be able to cook for the old gents.
She is assisted by a contemporary, Josef (Alex Melesh), functioning as the household's butler, but in his heart still attending to the needs of Madame Tanya in whose service he has always striven. He helped her escape safely from Europe. Though she has since "fallen" to his level, his continuing diffidence in honoring her as royalty has kept them from consumating what is obviously a deep spiritual love between them.
A Xmas meal is prepared & eerything's just so jolly until an unexpected telegram informs them their guests are not going to be able to make it.
Feeling lonesome for having outlived the majority of their friends, the three old men decide they must meet new people. Each of the three men write out a dinner introduction to toss, along with their wallets containing ten dollars each, into the street to be found at random.
The theory was that anyone decent enough to return the wallets would make good company. The gloomy one of the trio, George, is certain they'll never see the wallets again, but the other two are much more hopeful & indeed do obtain a better outcome from the experiment than does George, who seems to have created his own fate out of negative expectation.
James Houston (Richard Carson) shows up first, an honest Texan, though by his boots he's obviously a man in need & might have benefited by just keeping the ten dollars. Next to arrive is a young lady, Jean Lawrence (Jean Parker), likewise returning a wallet. She too is imposed upon to stay, her family being in any case in another state. They have a lovely Xmas together, caroling & feasting.
In consequence of the evening with the three wealthy gentlemen, the two young "strangers" fall in love. And it is agreed they shall all get together again for the following christmas, not to mention several times in the interim, for they have all forged a defacto family.
[SPOILER ALERT] Alas, before they can experience that second winter holiday together, the three gents returning by airplane from a business trip are killed in a stormy crash. Their ghosts return, unaware they're dead until they realize that Joseph & Madame Tanya cannot see their presence.
"I knew I would never see them again," said Madame, weeping over the telegram, though arrayed about her are the transluscent spirits who cannot make their presence known.
Jean & Jimmy were making plans to have "three best men" at their wedding, when they received the awful news. The ghosts of the gents cannot help but linger & haunt the world, in order to observe the fates of their surrogate children who had gone from a plethora of father figures to none, at all in a single day.
Jimmy's singing voice gets him noticed by a producer & a certain Arlene Terry (Helen Vinson), who has quickly become a threat to Jimmy's relationship with Jean. As trouble & storm gathers around them, the gloomy spirit of old George seems to have all his cynicism justified. While sinking into despair, George is called into darkness for the sins of his life, a shocking moment in a film that has seemed to be heading for uplifting content exclusively.
The remaining two spirits see Jimmy falling for the smooth talking decadent damsel, just as they are witness to the suffering of Jean. But then Allan hears a bugle-call & his son (William Bakewell), who died in war, comes to take him to be reunited with his late wife.
Now only Michael remains to see Jimmy drifting further & further from Jean. When Michael is called by an angel, he feels he cannot abandon Jimmy at the young man's hour of temptation. The angel warns him there is only one Call for each spirit, & should he choose to remain, he'll dwell in shadow forever. Michael makes his choice & the angel says, "So be it, Michael."
As the melodrama heightens, a jealous ex-husband of Arlene's shoots Jimmy. On the operating table his spirit rises out of his body & comes to Michael. From that moment there develops a surprising ending that effectively wrings out the tears, plus a little fillip regarding George & his journey into "the dark," about which I will say no more. [END SPOILER ALERT]
A minor classic, it's relatively unknown compared to such Christmas fantasies as Miracle on 34th Street (1947), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), A Christmas Carol (1938), but sometimes it's really pleasant to watch something a little less familiar in a similarly vintage vein. Be forwarned there's a colorized & re-edited version of Beyond Tomorrow (retitled Beyond Christmas). Avoid the altered version & find the original in haunting black & white. Another semi-obscure but truly delightful Christmas fantasy worth tracking down is Jimmy Durante in The Great Rupert (1950).
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