Tomorrow, the World! (1944)
Directed by Leslie Fenton, Tomorrow, the World! is an oft-neglected motion picture that not only traffics in the horrors of Nazism but deals with vital issues like indoctrination and the ease with which hatred can spread. This 1944 film is based on a Broadway play of the same name and packs a wallop for a number of reasons. Featuring an intense performance by Skippy Homeier and a boy fight you have to see to believe, this is well worth tracking down.
Some of Fenton’s movie errs on the subtle side, but a lot of it crosses the barrier into pure wildness. The viciousness with which Homeier’s character behaves doesn’t run out until the final moments, leaving him just within the realm of redemption. Still, his Hitler Youth orphan is one of the most terrifying and astonishing young characters put to celluloid.
Homeier is Emil Buckner, a German boy sent to live in the United States with his American uncle Mike (Fredric March). Mike is planning to marry Betty (Leona Richards), which draws the ire of his sister Jessie (Agnes Moorehead). When Emil arrives, he’s stunned at the news and reveals his hatred of Jews almost instantly. This does little to deter Mike’s daughter (Joan Carroll) from taking a shine to the little Nazi.
As Emil becomes more involved in Mike’s life, he ratchets up the hate. This leads to sequences that are both ludicrous and frightening, including a moment where Emil zeroes in on a neighbourhood girl and another in which he attacks bludgeons poor Pat in the basement. Mike and Betty aren’t sure what to do about Emil, but they try varying approaches to tame the beast within.
There are a lot of interesting elements at play with Tomorrow, the World!. The character of Jessie is particularly interesting, as her hatred of Germans over the horrors of Nazism leads her to repeatedly make comments about “exterminating” the entire race. This hatred draws Emil to her, naturally, and they appear to briefly find a common bond against Betty.
In planting a character like Jessie in the mix, Fenton’s picture circumvents a lot of the trappings of similar propaganda efforts and paints a shade of realism. Mike’s German housekeeper (Edit Angold) provides another layer, tossing off Emil’s Nazi advances the second the little bugger arrives. The housekeeper and Jessie dovetail nicely, providing a sense that the depravity of hate knows no national boundaries.
Tomorrow, the World! also goes to great lengths to promote the value of a good beating. A brutal fistfight occurs after one of the neighbourhood boys chases Emil through a forest after the Nazi’s wiped out Pat. This scene is among the fiercest fights I’ve seen in a movie of this sort. The kids are bloodied and torn up after the battle. It’s important to remember that the characters are supposed to be around the age of 12 or so.
It could be argued that Emil’s appreciation of democratic principles could only have come about as the result of a beating and the threat of imprisonment, a somewhat ironic distinction given the horrors of Nazi Germany. But the film never lays this on thick, choosing instead to zero in on Emil’s Nazism as a matter of misbehaviour. Even Pat doesn’t seem all that upset about being “bopped on the head.”
Still, there’s much credit to be given and Tomorrow, the World! is largely a respectable movie. It reflects an America that seems to have evaporated somewhat, one where the value of “questioning everything you’ve been told” was held in the highest esteem and one where the idea of a kid talking keenly about shooting an AK-47 and taking ballistics training was rightly disturbing.