In a large and expensive mansion a Golden Wedding Anniversary is being celebrated by a crowd of family and friends. They are waiting on the honorees, and at the signal from what I took to be a son, the crowd begins singing “Those Enduring Young Charms”. The couple appears and begins walking down the stairs, only to turn around and go back up and into their room. Surprise and wonder – and the son on the landing says, “They’re ARGUING!” Well, it’s a rather mild disagreement at most. He wants to read an account of his life to the crowd, and she doesn’t want him to be laughed at and humiliated, since she is certain none of the story will be believed.
The camera closes in on the typescript of his story and we see “……… Near the end of the century I was working on a newspaper.” The paper was The Evening News, and Larry Stevens (Dick Powell) had just been promoted from obituary writer to reporter. A flashback begins with Larry and the other employees celebrating his promotion with beer and singing, when Mr. Gordon (George Cleveland), the boss, walks in and silences them all quickly. Larry then gets into a discussion of time with the files attendant (the newspaper morgue librarian, Pop Benson, played by John Philliber). Pop opens up a book of newspapers from the 1870s to the center, points to 1875, and says, “To the people reading these papers new, all of these papers, the second half of the book, were the future. You see, Larry, time is an illusion.”
Then he gives Larry a paper, which Larry accepts and shoves into his suit pocket. The boys move on to continue drinking at a stage show with table seating and service. The current act is The Great Cigolini (played by Jack Oakie), which features Sylvia (Linda Darnell), his niece, who reads the future in their mind-reading/magic act. Larry is instantly smitten. Later Larry looks at the paper and it is tomorrow’s, with the big story “Hold-up at the Opera House While Melba Sings – by Lawrence Stevens”. So Larry invites Sylvia to go with him to a matinee performance, so he can witness the robbery. He doesn’t have to write a story – he just copies the one in his paper. Of course the price he pays is constant police suspicion. Edgar Kennedy plays Inspector Mulrooney in his usual blustery, flustered manner, but Mulrooney is smart enough to question why Stevens was in the right place at exactly the right time.
Complications arise thick and fast when Sylvia, in an attempt to convince the police that Larry is not part of the gang, claims she predicted the robbery and told Larry. Then to prove she makes accurate predictions, she predicts a drowning. And then Larry reads in his latest paper about his own murder at the St. George Hotel.
A very clever script makes the impossible seem downright reasonable. The Screenplay and Adaptation are by Dudley Nichols and Rene Clair, Based on Originals by Lord Dunsany, Hugh Wedlock and Howard Snyder, and ideas of Lewis R. Foster. Additional dialogue is by Helene Fraenkel. The Music Score was Composed and Conducted by Robert Stolz (Oscar nomination). Produced by Arnold Pressburger and Directed by Rene Clair.
This all may remind you of Kyle Chandler’s series “Early Edition”, but in that very good show, Kyle’s character, Gary Hobson, got tomorrow’s paper and then went out to change things before they could happen – prevent disasters, or murders, or whatever.
Here Dick Powell’s character Larry has to face the immutability of time. Nothing can be changed.
More stuff because I was curious about the”based on” credits: Wikipedia says that Frank Capra bought the rights to a story (but other sources indicate a screenplay) by Wedlock and Snyder, and then discovered that it was very similar to a 20-year-old play by Lord Dunsany, “The Jest of Haha Laba”. I am strongly resisting making a comment on that title. Capra then bought rights to the play as well, and as he was leaving for the army in WW II he sold both to Rene Clair, who wrote the script with Dudley Nichols, but apparently with some input by Lewis R. Foster, who was a screenwriter. Incidentally, Clair worked all over, but mostly in France; however, two of his other American movies as director are “And Then There Were None” and “I Married a Witch” – both are gems.
A tip: do not read the Wikipedia article on this movie until after you see it, because the article gives away the ending.