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William A. Seiter
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***SPOILERS*** *SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** Full bore melodrama!Everything you expect from the genre is here!You will cry a river,feel for the heroine and her little boy,Stahl was the prince of the melodrama during those days.
This movie is a long flashback:It's black Thursday,the hive of activity is blighted,people are crazy,it's going all over the place.Posh people are throwing a party in a luxury flat:jewels,furs,champagne and caviar.They're dancing on a vulcano.Pretty soon,all of them will be broke.Among them ,a man who thought he got it made:he married a woman he does not love anymore,and now all what's left to him is suicide.But there's this letter.Then begins a journey through the past.
A woman he forgot tells him about her life,after the evening of their love atr first sight,the only evening,only yesterday...Then ,the movie focuses on the heroine(touching Margaret Sullavan).He goes to war,she 's pregnant -it's not a shame anymore nowadays,her optimistic aunt tells her-.THe soldier's return scenes are perhaps the best ones in the whole movie.It seems that they may have influenced M.Kalatozov for "The cranes are flying".The parade on the street,with Sullavan trying to catch her lover's eye,her despair when he does not even recognize her are heart-wrenching.
As often in melodrama (check "imitation of life" or "back street"),a woman without a man is nothing at all.So the only way left for her is the business one.And generally she succeeds (such is the case of the heroine of "imitation of life").So,Margaret Sullavan makes her way of life ,and becomes the owner of a very chic shop .We only steal a glance at it,the social elevation interests Stahl only because it will allow her heroine to enter her former lover's wealthy world.Her son,now a student in a military school,is what you call mother's pride.so she meets again the man,now married,but,again,he does not know her.Sullavan throw him a line,by telling him she was overjoyed twice in her lifetime,the second time this very evening."And the first time? " the clueless man whispers..She leaves..
SPOILERS BEYOND THAT POINT*SPOILERS BEYOND THAT POINT Now we enter the heart of melodrama.No melodrama without a death,generally caused by a fatal illness.Poor Sullavan is about to die,and pretty damn quick.Harrowing last scene mother/son. Now we've gone full circle.Back in the present.The lover has finished his letter.He has understood his wife does not mean the slightest thing for him.He rushes to Sullavan's house,just to learn she 's dead.Then comes a very very strooooong scene.He meets the boy,they begin to speak,the boy shows his medals,and after a conversation about these foolish things that make a life worthwhile,the man says :"I am your father".End of the movie.Sublime!AND END OF SPOILER.END OF SPOILER.
It's a pity that this film should be forgotten.Maybe "magnificent obsession" and" imitation of life" have taken advantage of Douglas Sirk's brilliant remakes.If you love these works,you will love "only yesterday " too.And not only yesterday or today but forever.
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