The 80-star cast of Forever and a Day would certainly not have been feasible had not most of the actors and production people turned over their salaries to British war relief -- a point driven home during the lengthy opening credits by an unseen narrator. The true star of the film is a stately old manor house in London, built in 1804 by a British admiral (C. Aubrey Smith) and blitzed in 1940 by one Adolf Hitler. Through the portals of this house pass a vast array of Britons, from high-born to low. The earliest scenes involve gay blade Lt. William Trimble (Ray Milland), wronged country-girl Susan (Anna Neagle), and wicked landowner Ambrose Pomfret (Claude Rains). We move on to a comic interlude involving dotty Mr. Simpson (Reginald Owen), eternally drunken butler Bellamy (Charles Laughton), and cockney plumbers Mr. Dabb (Cedric Hardwicke) and Wilkins (Buster Keaton). Maidservant Jenny (Ida Lupino) takes over the plot during the Boer War era, while the World War I sequence finds the house converted into a way-station for soldiers (including Robert Cummings) and anxious families (including Roland Young and Gladys Cooper). Finally we arrive in 1940, with American Gates Pomfret (Kent Smith) and lady-of-the-house Lesley Trimble (Ruth Warrick) surveying the bombed-out manor, and exulting over the fact that the portrait of the home's founder, Adm. Eustace Trimble (Smith), has remained intact -- symbolic proof of England's durability in its darkest hours. The huge cast includes Dame May Whitty, Edward Everett Horton, Wendy Barrie, Merle Oberon, Nigel Bruce, Richard Haydn, Donald Crisp, and a host of others -- some appearing in sizeable roles, others (like Arthur Treacher and Patric Knowles) willingly accepting one-scene bits, simply to participate in the undertaking. Seven directors and 21 writers were also swept up in the project. Forever and a Day was supposed to have been withdrawn from circulation after the war and its prints destroyed so that no one could profit from what was supposed to have been an act of industry charity. Happily for future generations, prints have survived and are now safely preserved.
by Hal Erickson synopsis