fbpx It Never Happened [Tomato Is Another Day, Tomato’s Another Day] | George Eastman Museum

Galleries closed through Feb. 4. Historic mansion and Tischer Visitor Center are open.

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It Never Happened [Tomato Is Another Day, Tomato’s Another Day]

00:00 Introduction by Peter Bagrov, Curator in Charge, Moving Image Department, George Eastman Museum
04:04 It Never Happened [Tomato Is Another Day, Tomato’s Another Day]
11:29 Outtakes and Trims

It Never Happened [Tomato Is Another Day, Tomato’s Another Day] (US 1934)
Director: J. S. Watson Jr.
Producer: J. S. Watson Jr.
Writer: Alec Wilder
Cinematographer: J. S. Watson Jr.
Cast: Jack Lee (The Husband)

First screening: 7 June 1934
Sound: variable area
Color: b/w
Length (in feet): 645 ft.
Length (in reels): 1
Running time: 7 min.
>Frame rate: 24 fps

[It Never Happened [Tomato Is Another Day, Tomato’s Another Day] – outtakes] (US 1934)
Director: J. S. Watson Jr.
Producer: J. S. Watson Jr.
Writer: Alec Wilder
Cinematographer: J. S. Watson Jr.
Cast: Jack Lee (The Husband)

Sound: variable area
Color: b/w
Length (in feet): 405 ft.
Length (in reels): 1
Running time: 4 min., 30 sec.
Frame rate: 24 fps

Generous support for the video introduction provided by Art Bridges.

Funded by the National Film Preservation Foundation, with additional support from Ralph L. Cook
Preserved at Cineric
Digitized by Eastman Museum Film Preservation Services
This film has been made accessible to the public in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: NEH CARES. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this video, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

A native of Rochester, New York, the physician, writer-editor, and avant-garde filmmaker James Sibley Watson Jr. created groundbreaking films in his own backyard—in the carriage house behind his home to be exact. Together with Melville Webber, Watson experimented with 35mm film. They produced two seminal films of the avant-garde movement: The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) and Lot in Sodom (1933). Watson’s two industrial films, The Eyes of Science (1930, co-directed with Webber) and Highlights and Shadows (1938, co-directed with Ken Edwards), were also received with great enthusiasm.

Apparently, Watson’s filmography was much broader than what is commonly believed, and the filmmaker himself was hesitant to mention some of his shorter films. With the exception of It Never Happened/Tomato Is Another Day. It premiered at the Boston Fine Arts Theatre in 1934, following a screening of Lot in Sodom, but then was not shown in public again for more than sixty years. The dual title indicates the release title first (if one may call it a release) and Watson’s preferred title second. The minimal dialogue is redundant (“I must be going,” says the character after he leaves the room) and laced with wordplay underscoring visual action (“I give you my all,” says a character handing over an awl, before being met with the response, “You, who have chiseled your way into my home”). Watson was poking fun at the impact of sound on feature motion pictures, deftly striking a blow at the ineptitude of dialogue in this new medium, as well as the perfunctory plots and wooden acting styles they often served. “It Never Happened . . . has satirical intentions, which are impaired by a descent to cheapness,” concluded Christian Science Monitor (June 8, 1934). Clearly, this “descent to cheapness” was intentional. Decades later, Watson recalled that the film “was not appreciated by the audience. They didn’t get it. Harold Lloyd directed by Sennett might have brought it off.” He reported to the scriptwriter that “the people came to complain—they thought it was a matter of, you know, mass dementia of some sort.” Viewed today, it seems very modern. Film scholar Jan-Christopher Horak (who rediscovered the film in the 1990s) considers it to be “a unique example of Dadaist aesthetics in early sound cinema: a minimalist and virtually expressionless acting style on a claustrophobic set characterizes the melodramatic love triangle.”

A complete set of 35mm materials (original camera negative and soundtrack negative, work print, release print, and outtakes) for the film was donated to the museum by the Watson family. This preservation was made from the negatives, which contain no credits. After the preservation was completed, the original release print was rediscovered. However, it did not help to identify the cast and crew. According to its opening credits, the film was “Non-Copyrighted” and “Passed Up by National Board of Preview,” with “The Cast, Producers and Directors . . . Still Missing (Lost In The Jungle).” Only recently were we able to determine the correct production date (most sources indicate 1930) and identify some of the people associated with this obscure production. The screenplay was written by the composer Alec Wilder (who collaborated with Watson on both Usher and Lot), and one of the roles—that of The Husband—was played by Jack Lee, a veteran vaudeville comedian and an announcer at the Rochester WHAM radio station. 

The outtakes were preserved as well. We are attaching them at the end of the film, allowing audiences to understand and appreciate Watson’s editorial process.