Emil (Skip Homeier) is a young German boy who is coming to America to live with his “uncle” Mike (Fredric March), an old friend of his father. Also living in the home are Mike’s maid Frieda (Edit Angold) sister Jessie (Agnes Moorehead) and daughter Pat (Joan Carroll).
World War II is raging on, and the family will get a bad surprise when their new house guest arrives: In Germany, Emil was a devoted member of the Hitler Youth.
Emil has been heavily indoctrinated with Nazi ideals, and Mike hopes to “rehabilitate” him to get rid of those thoughts. But before he can succeed, Emil terrorizes Mike’s Jewish fiance (Betty Field) and his new classmates.
Tomorrow, the World (1944) is based on the play by James Gow and Arnaud d’Usseau. The film was directed by Leslie Fenton, and borrows its name from the threat spoken by Adolf Hitler himself: “Today, Germany; Tomorrow, the world.”
The film opens with an interesting conversation between Mike and Jessie, which highlights the misunderstandings that were common in the American mind during the war. Jessie doesn’t completely understand what a concentration camp is, and automatically assumes that Emil’s father must have done something bad in order to be killed, when in reality he was a German man working on the side of the Allies.
Despite some talk of the war, the film’s mood in the opening is quite pleasant. The everyday lives of Mike, Pat, Jessie and Mike’s fiance Lee are established, and there’s a bit of excitement over the arrival of a new family member. They are not yet aware of how Emil will act when he arrives.
Tomorrow, the World becomes an engrossing story of extreme hatred and the sometimes futile attempts to counter it.
It’s obviously a very biased tale, written from a perspective that goes 100% pro-America, but considering the gravity of what was going on in the world during this period, it’s impossible to be surprised that the film would take such a stance.
Some of the “America is the greatest country ever” dialogue can get a bit corny, but it’s needed to counteract the bigotry spouted by Emil.
Homeier, in the role of Emil, does a fantastic job. His character is very sinister, so heavily indoctrinated and so outspoken about his hatred. The young actors pulls off the role perfectly, never missing a beat and doing a great job of establishing the differences between his character and the American children portrayed in the film. His performance can be quite chilling at times.
While the entire cast does a pretty great job here, Homeier’s biggest competition for the film’s best performance comes in his character’s biggest foe. Betty Field’s character is a Jewish woman who plans on marrying Mike and also teaches Pat and Emil’s class. One of Emil’s goals in the film is to push her out of the family.
Field, who I became a fan of after seeing her impressive performance in The Southerner, is wonderful in this film. Her character is torn between wanting to help Emil and wanting to lash out at him for acting in such a hateful, disrespectful manner toward her. She seems representative of America as a whole during the war – disgusted by what was happening in Germany and the mindset of the Nazis, but at the same time desperate to do whatever possible to correct those wrongs.
Quite a few crazy twists are thrown into the story, and it isn’t exactly an easy watch. Emil does a lot of troublesome things. He is a demonized character, but does not serve as a demonization of all Germans, and some abrupt redemption is found at the film’s end. The score: 4/5
Unfortunately, the quality of the DVD release of this film leaves much to be desired, as impressive as the film itself is. There is some distortion to the picture, particularly early on in the film, and the sound is somewhat muffled. There are no special features on the DVD at all. It’s watchable, but not perfect. It could use a good restoration, especially considering its historical significance, and I would like to see at least a few features added if the DVD was re-released in the future. DVD score: 2/5
For a look at how Hollywood has dealt with the Holocaust, I recommend the documentary Invisible Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust, which is where I discovered Tomorrow, the World (through a clip used in the documentary). The documentary and the feature film can be purchased at Amazon. (Use these links to purchase either film and a small donation will be made to TMP.)