Susan Hayward files one of her best performances as troubled singer Lillian Roth in director Daniel Mann's emotional, often harrowing adaptation of Roth's best-selling autobiography. With grit and empathy, I'll Cry Tomorrow chronicles Roth's rise to fame, debilitating struggle with alcoholism, and courageous recovery, and Warner Archive gives this absorbing biopic the red carpet treatment. A brand new 4K scan of the original camera negative, robust audio, and all the extras from the 2007 DVD distinguish this top-notch Blu-ray presentation of a wrenching yet ultimately uplifting film. Recommended.
Hollywood's love affair with alcoholics spans almost a century. From The Lost Weekend and all four versions of A Star Is Born to Days of Wine and Roses and Leaving Las Vegas, dozens of movies have documented - often with painful frankness - the devastating physical and emotional effects of alcohol abuse. One of the most memorable films to tackle the topic is I'll Cry Tomorrow, director Daniel Mann's searing adaptation of singer Lillian Roth's autobiography. Susan Hayward earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her dimensional, no-holds-barred portrayal of the vivacious, volatile, and deeply troubled performer whose promising career hit the skids and careened way off course when she began losing her battle with the bottle.
Roth may not be familiar to today's audiences, but she was a big deal back in the 1920s and '30s. A Broadway star at age 7, she parlayed that success into a singing career that led to a stint in the movies during the early talkie period. According to I'll Cry Tomorrow, she began drinking at age 18 on the advice of a nurse(!) who believed liquor would calm her nerves and ease her grief after the tragic death of David Tredman (Ray Danton), her childhood sweetheart who she planned to marry. Alcohol initially amped up Roth's energy and confidence, but her incessant partying, high-strung demeanor, and bad taste in men led to a dependence that destroyed her burgeoning career and spawned a severe personal decline.
When she hit rock bottom and contemplated suicide, Roth turned to Alcoholics Anonymous for help. She clawed her way out of the black hole of addiction and long before confessional TV became the norm for troubled celebrities bravely shared her ordeal on a 1953 episode of This Is Your Life. The support she received following that landmark appearance inspired her to write her autobiography and sparked a career resurgence that continued until her death in 1970 at the age of 69.
I'll Cry Tomorrow takes many liberties with Roth's story and either omits or sugarcoats much of the heartache and degradation she experienced, but it still packs a potent punch. The scenes of Roth at her worst - wandering the streets in an alcoholic haze, jumping out of her skin when her cravings can't be satisfied, and passed out at a bar in a puddle of booze - are raw and wrenching, and Hayward performs them with ferocious abandon. Though Roth's arduous recovery only merits a few minutes of screen time during the film's final half-hour (making it seem like only a couple of AA meetings are needed to vanquish addiction), it puts an uplifting, inspirational coda on a largely downbeat tale that Mann directs with both grit and sensitivity.
Hayward is a big, showy actress and at times her portrayal flirts with histrionics, but her commitment to the part and ability to inhabit Roth so completely make her performance magnetic. Though it's tough to buy the 38-year-old Hayward as the 18-year-old Roth early in the movie, she settles comfortably into the role as Lillian matures. She also does all her own singing, belting out "Sing You Sinners" and "When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along" with plenty of verve and delivering a lovely, tender rendition of "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe." Roth was reportedly crestfallen when told her own (far superior) voice wouldn't be used in the film, but Hayward does an excellent job...far better than other non-singing actresses like Jean Simmons and Audrey Hepburn, who valiantly but not so successfully tackled vocal chores in Guys and Dolls and Funny Face, respectively. Though Hayward would finally win the Best Actress Oscar three years later on her fifth try for I Want to Live!, her performance in I'll Cry Tomorrow stands as her finest.
Mann's film certainly puts Hayward in the spotlight, but Jo Van Fleet, in only her second movie, often steals it from her. As Katie Roth, Lillian's ambitious, controlling, yet still supportive and sympathetic mother, Fleet (who was just 18 months older than her on-screen daughter) files a natural, nuanced portrayal, and her scenes with Hayward crackle with tension and intensity. If she hadn't already made such a huge splash in her film debut as James Dean's estranged mother in East of Eden the very same year (the role would win her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress), she surely would have been nominated for an Oscar for her striking turn here.
Eddie Albert, who doesn't appear until the final half hour, also shines as Lillian's stalwart AA sponsor and his off-screen wife Margo, perhaps best known for her touching performance in Frank Capra's Lost Horizon 18 years earlier, supplies welcome warmth as another AA counselor. Richard Conte is both charming and deliciously nasty as the opportunistic Tony, who brutally takes advantage of Lillian, and Don Taylor, who most of us remember as Elizabeth Taylor's fiancé in Father of the Bride, also impresses as a jovial airman who weds Roth during a whirlwind drunken binge. Though in real life Roth was married five times by the time she was 32(!), the screenplay whittles down her number of husbands to just two. The script also deletes Roth's sister Ann, with whom she was quite close, and paints Katie as more of a stereotypical stage mother than she apparently was.
Though I'll Cry Tomorrow falls victim to some of the typical biopic traps, it's better than many movies in the same vein. Once seen, Hayward's bravura performance won't be soon forgotten, and as a public service message about the dangers and horrors of alcoholism, Mann's film and Roth's life make powerful statements and still strongly resonate.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
I'll Cry Tomorrow arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu without music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
A brand new 4K scan of the original camera negative yields a stunning 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that beautifully honors Arthur E. Arling's Oscar-nominated cinematography. Don't let the fuzzy MGM logo scare you. Moments later, a sharp, vibrant image floods the screen and remains locked in for the duration of the 119-minute film. Faint grain preserves the feel of celluloid and lends the urban exteriors essential texture, while deep blacks, bright whites that never bloom, and wonderfully graded grays produce a detailed picture that brims with depth. Excellent contrast, fine shadow delineation, and vivid close-ups that showcase Hayward's alabaster complexion, frequently tear-stained cheeks, and often disheveled appearance enhance the presentation, and no nicks, dirt, or scratches dot the pristine source. A bit of instability plagues a process shot of Hayward performing in a theater, but that's the transfer's only hiccup. Without question, I'll Cry Tomorrow has never looked better, so fans will certainly want to upgrade.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track supplies robust sound. A wide dynamic scale highlights the brassy power of Hayward's throaty vocals and jazzy accents of Alex North's score, both of which fill the room with ease. Sonic accents like shattering glass are distinct and all the dialogue is clear and easy to comprehend. No distortion creeps into the mix and no age-related hiss, pops, or crackle disrupt the mood. This is a high-quality track that serves both the drama and musical numbers well.
All the extras from 2007 DVD have been ported over to this Blu-ray release.
Vintage Short: Story Conference (SD, 20 minutes) - This surprisingly opulent 1934 Vitaphone musical short stars the real Lillian Roth and borrows a bit from director Busby Berkeley with a kaleidoscopic finale. A group of writers at the Terrific Motion Picture Company call a story conference to brainstorm ideas for a new Lillian Roth picture. When the 24-year-old Roth shows up unexpectedly, the writers continue tossing out ideas that she acts out on film. Roth sings two songs - "Alimony Sal" and "I've Got the Blues" - and her pure, mellifluous voice, beauty, and magnetism prove she's got star quality. It's just a shame her alcoholism prevented her from realizing her full potential.
Vintage TV Excerpts: The MGM Parade (SD, 10 minutes) - Three excerpts from the promotional MGM Parade television series hype I'll Cry Tomorrow. In the first, host George Murphy indulges in scripted chatter with star Susan Hayward and introduces a clip from the film. In the second and third, Murphy introduces one of Hayward's numbers from the picture and another dramatic scene, respectively.
Vintage Newsreel Clips (SD, 90 seconds) - Two brief newsreel clips are included. The first features footage of both Hayward and Roth at the premiere of I'll Cry Tomorrow, while the second shows Gregory Peck presenting Hayward with Look Magazine's Actress of the Year award.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 3 minutes) - The film's original preview touts Hayward's "towering dramatic triumph."
Susan Hayward's outstanding performance and the fine work of a stellar supporting cast keep I'll Cry Tomorrow real and riveting, despite the difficult subject matter. Warner Archive honors director Daniel Mann's biopic with a top-notch A/V presentation that's distinguished by a brand new 4K scan of the original camera negative. All the extras from the 2007 DVD enhance the appeal of this high-quality release that definitely merits an upgrade. Recommended.