Only Yesterday (John Stahl, USA, 1933, 105m)

John Stahl's rarely screened Only Yesterday begins with an incredible opening sequence that encapsulates the staggering effects of the Black Friday stock market crash through a relay of small gestures and rash conclusions, human behaviors flung off course. Then a letter from an unknown woman spirals us into the past. Never impeded by the dramatic improbability of an emotional amnesia – ocular occlusion that accounts for forgetting an unforgettable conquest, Stahl's vision, with the touches of lyricism and stoicism found in Borzage and Naruse reaches a central destination, the eyes and the heart. One may read the Spanish critic Miguel Marías’ appreciation of Stahl concerning the affinities evident with directors as disparate as McCarey, Leisen, Mattarazo and even Rossellini. This film marks the debut of the wonderful Margaret Sullavan. Famous for her perceptive haiku – like summaries of difficult to know screen personalities, actress Louise Brooks described Margaret Sullavan as “mysterious… like a voice singing in the snow.” Sullavan brings a luminous presence to her screen debut in one of the first of many roles as a vivacious, valiant yet fragile idealist extinguished before our moistening eyes. Stahl is most often unavoidably compared to Douglas Sirk due to the three Universal Studios remakes of Stahl's earlier directed titles. It is is somewhat difficult to fully appraise his development as so many of Stahl’s films from the silent era were lost. Many other titles have scattered or been subject to only occasional attention. Leave Her to Heaven has long been justly recognized but Stahl on the whole still seems undervalued and underexposed. Perhaps a visit to see this touching and inventive early sound picture, Only Yesterday will remind us to reconsider of one of our great film directors. —Mark McElhatten