‘Till the End of Time’: Coming Home

This film looks at the dilemma of returning war veterans.
‘Till the End of Time’: Coming Home
A boatload of soldiers arrives in New York City, circa October 1945. (FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

NR | 1h 45min | Drama | 1946

Edward Dmytryck’s film, released the same year as William Wyler’s “The Best Years of Our Lives,” has a similar theme: ex-soldiers clawing their way back into peacetime. Dmytryck draws on Niven Busch’s novel “They Dream of Home” about young men, compelled too soon by war, to grow out of their youth.

World War II Marine corps buddies Cliff Harper (Guy Madison), Bill Tabeshaw (Robert Mitchum), and Perry Kincheloe (Bill Williams) return to civilian life. But after years of soldiering to protect their future, they’re uncertain about what to do when that future becomes their present.

Patricia Ruscomb (Dorothy McGuire) and Cliff Harper (Guy Madison), in "Till the End of Time." (RKO Radio Pictures)
Patricia Ruscomb (Dorothy McGuire) and Cliff Harper (Guy Madison), in "Till the End of Time." (RKO Radio Pictures)

Harper falls for war-widow Patricia Ruscomb (Dorothy McGuire), politely ignoring Helen Ingersoll (Jean Porter), the vivacious 18-year-old neighbor vying for his attention. Tough guy Tabeshaw wants to settle down on a ranch, if only the metal implant (to protect his injured skull) would stop hurting. Double amputee Kincheloe, prefers to self-pityingly mope around in his wheelchair, instead of sporting prosthetic legs to make a career out of his talent for boxing.

Accustomed to following orders, the men struggle with this now unfamiliar, unregimented life. They love the freedom that civilian life brings, but find its surfeit of choices overwhelming—whether it’s going back to school, dating, finding a wife, starting a business, or holding a job. Then Tabeshaw’s implant acts up, triggering possibly fatal headaches. That jolts Harper and Kincheloe out of themselves, forcing gratitude for what they can have instead of discontent over what they can’t.

Madison, Mitchum, and Williams, who’d all served in the military, bring the dilemma of returning vets to their roles, conveying a sense of release mingled with angst at being robbed of years they’d rather have spent differently.

Bill Tabeshaw (Robert Mitchum) and Helen Ingersoll (Jean Porter), in "Till the End of Time." (RKO Radio Pictures)
Bill Tabeshaw (Robert Mitchum) and Helen Ingersoll (Jean Porter), in "Till the End of Time." (RKO Radio Pictures)
His debut in a lead role, Madison conveys an endearing mix of cocksureness, vulnerability, and restlessness. McGuire lives her role of a wife, robbed too young of married life, but afraid to commit to another marriage for fear she’ll be robbed again. And 24-year-old Jean Porter plays an 18-year-old with confidence; it helped that she stood only five feet tall. Dmytryck, for his part, promptly married Porter, and stayed married to her for over 50 years until his death.

Melancholic Madison

Dmytryck’s characters continue fighting, long after the sound of guns and grenades have died down. They’re fighting for relevance, for relationships, for reasons to live. They’re fighting against fear of rejection, of shame, of failure. His message? Happy are those with supportive friends and family; they’ll make it through the toughest peacetimes.
Harper’s parents don’t want him lingering in the past. But what if the past reaches out to haunt the present? What if it’s the past that won’t let go of the present? Harper finds himself indulging in that past when he comforts a soldier grappling with PTSD shakes, while Ruscomb confronts the soldier cautioning him to not be stuck in the past, to be bold and get over it. Ironically, Harper has to snap Ruscomb out of nostalgia about her dead husband, I want to kiss you … but the room is too crowded.” Then, he grasps the confusion and loneliness his parents are feeling over his aloofness, even if he can’t understand what they’re saying.

The film’s silences reflect quiet pathos. Wordlessly, Harper watches Ingersoll crying, Harper’s parents watch him sleep when he’s secretly weeping.

Harper’s intended surprise for his parents, turning up unannounced at home, falls flat. They’re away. Still, Dmytryck turns that six-minute scene into a tribute to home and hearth. Barring a talky interruption by the precocious Ingersoll, it’s bereft of dialogue.

Cliff Harper (Guy Madison) and Helen Ingersoll (Jean Porter), in "Till the End of Time." (RKO Radio Pictures)
Cliff Harper (Guy Madison) and Helen Ingersoll (Jean Porter), in "Till the End of Time." (RKO Radio Pictures)

Harper walks from room to room taking in what’s changed, what hasn’t, what’s old, what’s new. As he fondles photo-frames and memorabilia, his finger accidentally turns on a riotous song on their music system. In the deathly silence, it’s like a bomb exploding. He scrambles to turn it off. Now, strolling past their piano, he runs his finger, deliberately, along the keys, high notes to low. On his way out, he playfully reverses that, this time, low notes to high.

Dmytryck is reflecting on life. Loud, sudden, unwelcome, and indescribably disruptive war is like that boisterous song tearing the quiet. All soldiers react to what’s accidental: They cope; they contain. Peacetime, however, demands purposeful living.

What matters to Harper and his mates is disposition. Will their lives be a series of conscious choices or mere compulsions? Harper’s little piano play is his defiance of fate. His notes, no matter how soft, are intentional and therefore more beautiful.

You can watch “Till the End of Time” on TCM, Apple TV, and Amazon Video.
Till the End of TimeDirector: Edward Dmytryck Not Rated Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes Release Date: July 23, 1946 Rated: 3 stars out of 5
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Rudolph Lambert Fernandez is an independent writer who writes on pop culture. He may be reached at X, formerly known as Twitter: @RudolphFernandz
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