It’s been a while since I’ve seen a new Jimmy Stewart film (sad, I know). I recently picked up the James Stewart Screen Legends Collection (Amazon link) which included a handful of movies still on my list to see, as well as films like The Glenn Miller Story that I’ve been looking to add to my collection anyways.
Upon learning that Ray Milland and Jimmy did a film together, Next Time We Love shot to the top of my list. The film has Jimmy in his first real starring role as a romantic lead, appearing opposite Margaret Sullavan. The two had known each other through summer stock theater after Stewart graduated college (she was briefly married to Stewart’s best friend Henry Fonda as well) and Sullavan lobbied to have Stewart appear as her co-star in this film. The pair, who have quite a magical chemistry together, would appear in three more films as co-stars: The Shopworn Angel (1938), The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and The Mortal Storm (1940).
Stewart plays newspaper journalist Christopher Tyler, who has big ambitions of becoming a foreign correspondent. His girlfriend Cicely (Sullavan) is a college student, and the two spend her school breaks together while managing their relationship long-distance. The film opens with Chris asking Cicely to stay with him instead of returning on the train to school, and the two decide to marry. Chris’ wealthy friend, Tommy Abbott (Milland), manages to get Cicely started as an actress on the stage, and soon thereafter Chris is offered a position as a foreign correspondent in Rome. Cicely disappoints him when she decides to stay behind for her burgeoning acting career, but she confides in Tommy that her real reason for staying is because she is pregnant and doesn’t want to burden Chris with worrying for her in a foreign country. Tommy relays the information to Chris in Rome, and Chris returns home to be with his wife, failing to communicate his sudden departure from his post to the paper.
The two find themselves struggling to make ends meet while Chris works at the city news bureau. Tommy offers to loan Cicely money to buy things for herself and the baby so she can get back on the stage. Chris, who is prideful about his position as the breadwinner, becomes more and more depressed about his employment situation. As a last resort, Cicely pleads with Chris’ former newspaper editor to give him a second chance, and the editor hires Chris back on as a correspondent in Russia.
Throughout the next few years, Chris becomes a successful foreign correspondent as he travels the world and writes about the rising tensions leading up to WWII. Cicely also become famous and acclaimed on the stage, moving out of her and Chris’ old apartment and into a new place of her own. Tommy becomes close to both Cicely and her son Kit, but remains appropriate as he knows her heart still belongs to Chris. One night, Tommy finally confesses his love for Cicely and asks her to divorce Chris and marry him. Cicely says that although she and Chris have grown apart, she will wait for him.
Cicely and Chris meet one last time in St. Anton, Switzerland. Unbeknownst to Cicely, Chris is dying from a disease he picked up on his travels, but he is unwilling to disclose his ailment to his wife. He tells her instead that he has fallen out of love with her, and encourages her to divorce him. Chris then tries to leave St. Anton without Cicely knowing, but she catches him boarding the train. Seeing that he is sick, Cicely realizes that Chris was just trying to hide the truth, and he still loves her. The two depart on the train together as the film closes.
This film is a straight-up melodrama, and at times it feels like it’s poured on too thick. I find it hard to accept Stewart as Chris, especially when many of his romantic leads were the sweet, boy-next-door types. Chris seems almost unreasonable at times, which makes Milland’s Tommy a lot more appealing as he comes across more as the understanding and kind type in opposition to Chris’ pride. There is something special about that Stewart/Sullavan chemistry though, even though it is more apparent in their next effort together, The Shopworn Angel, and really comes to a peak in The Shop Around the Corner. No one is really asked to do much here in their roles, but everyone puts in a good effort.
Overall, Next Time We Love is somewhat forgettable fare. It is fun to see Stewart and Milland together, especially since it could be said that both were cast in similar romantic lead-type roles in their early years. This would be their only film together, with Stewart being lent out from MGM and Milland from Paramount. Imagine if the two had got to work together again, perhaps in the mid or late-1940s…wouldn’t that have been a treat?