Lary May has made a living out of investigating movies and their place in the cultural history of the United States. The Big Tomorrow is a bit of a sequel, or follow-up, to his other work, Screening Out the Past. In Tomorrow, May looks at the radical message of 1930s movies and how that message was first changed by war then by the new realities of the post-war era. The great star of the book is Will Rogers, folksy, American humorist that was at his height during the 1930s. I don’t think May’s interpretation of Rogers is off, but I wonder if most people who sat through his movies saw him quite the same way. As the interest in folk music, folk art and “The American Way” were all being investigated or rediscovered in the decade was Rogers, to most of the audience anyway, more of a representation of that thinking, that connection to the past, to a more “simpler time?” I tend to go with the latter, Will Rogers as folksy American hero, not so much an embodiment of the New Deal.
The second half of the book, I hate to say, is a bit of the “Well Duh?” school, especially at this point. Even when it was published in the early aughts, I’m pretty sure we knew that the United States took a sharp right turn both politically and culturally. The fact that Hollywood reflected this shift is about as big of a surprise that Liberace was gay. Having said that, May presents his case in a very informative, easy manner. Also his look at the subversive nature of film noir (another kind of “duh!” argument) is really worth the read. I would say that May’s other work, Screening Out the Past is a more important book to the overall canon of cultural history and his wife’s work, Homeward Bound, is the best book produced by the May family.