In 1976, Czech writer and scholar Antonín Jaroslav Liehm wrote a scathing appraisal of the current state of Czechoslovak cinema entitled “Triumph of the Untalented”. Juxtaposing the “fresh look at the world”1 offered by the artistic brilliance of the Czech New Wave, which emerged in the early 1960s with works by directors such as Miloš Forman and Věra Chytilová, Liehm regards the next wave of filmmakers as “the most devoted guardians of ‘ideological purity’, in whose name they are turning the entire Czech and Slovak culture into a desert of talentless conformity”.2 Liehm’s blunt assessment of the poor standard of filmic production in the aftermath of the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968 is less a criticism of the directors contributing to this “talentless conformity” than an attack on the restrictive cultural practices and censorship imposed by the post-invasion regime. Indeed, the replacement of the reforms and liberalism of politician Alexander Dubček’s fleeting Prague Spring, which saw mass protests against communism at the beginning of 1968 would, with the Soviet-sanctioned period of normalisation, not only impact on Czechoslovaks’ everyday life but also have major repercussions on cinematic creativity. As Liehm writes, “Every attempt at even the slightest originality is stifled at the screenplay stage, and the studio maintains a vigilant eye during the shooting to ensure the style of the film remains faithful to the very worst traditions”.3 If Liehm had waited an additional year to prepare his treatise, it is unlikely that he would have offered a different opinion, but if he had seen Jindřich Polák’s Zítra vstanu a oparím se cajem (Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea, 1977), he may have had a small chuckle or, at the very least, a wry smile.  

An adaptation of science fiction writer Josef Nesvadba’s short story of the same name, Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea was brought to life in a screenplay created by Nesvadba, Polák and Milos Macourek. It opens in an imagined 1996 and is set in motion by an outrageous plan concocted by a group of Nazis to save the Third Reich. Exploiting the time travel tourism industry created by the Universum Company based in Prague, the fascist collective, headed by Klaus Abard (Jirí Sovák), resolves to journey back to 8 December 1944 whereupon they will deliver a hydrogen bomb to Adolf Hitler (Frantisek Vicena) in a last-ditch attempt to win World War II. This vaguely horrific scenario, and its frightening revisionist impact on history, is immediately undercut by the film’s credits. Comically gesturing towards the manipulation of linear time in the film’s narrative, the credits feature the playful appropriation of archival footage of Hitler that has been edited into dance loops and images of the Schutzstaffel marching backwards to a buoyant score performed by the Film Symphony Orchestra. The plan is further complicated by the involvement of identical twins, Karel and Jan Bures (both played by Petr Kostka). While Karel is a willing accomplice in the plot, his untimely death and Jan’s impulsive decision to assume his identity result in all manner of hijinks. For Polák, who is predominantly known for his 1963 space epic, Ikarie XB-1 (1963), and the fantastical children’s show Mr Tau (1969-1988), Nesvadba’s short story provides the ideal material to combine the director’s skill for science fiction with an appreciation of the absurd.  

Offering a glimmer of comedic lightness to a cultural landscape that film scholar Peter Hames refers to as “a time of darkness,” Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea significantly does not free itself of the oppressive rules imposed on the Czechoslovak studio system.4 The subtle, as well as the not so subtle, reverence to communist principles is embedded in the film’s poking fun at an American couple who end up on the flight back to World War II when they thought they were going to see the dinosaurs and a radio broadcast that Jan absentmindedly listens to on the radio that links the “success of the World Peace Conference” to socialist countries. However, it is the lampooning of Hitler and the Nazis that works to not only meet the propagandist demands of the Soviet regime, but also provide the film with its source of hilarity, particularly in the scene in which one of the time-travelling Nazis admonishes his younger self, “You’re having yourself executed, you idiot!”

Disappointingly, it is difficult to gauge how audiences received Polák’s film on its original release as there are no archived reviews and the film barely registers as a footnote in studies on Czechoslovak cinema. Although Hames has written on the manner in which films from the 1960s “have been successfully marginalized,” resulting in them being “withdrawn and, like the problems of Czechoslovakia itself, virtually forgotten,” it appears to be taken for granted that films made in the time between the Warsaw Pact and the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1992 are not worthy of critical attention.5 Redressing this omission, Graham Williamson’s essay on Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea to accompany the Second Run DVD release of the film illustrates how Polák’s blending of genres is at the heart of the film’s appeal:

Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up…exists at the intersection of three familiar subgenres which are rarely combined […] It is a ticking-bomb thriller, a time travel movie about people from the future interfering in World War II, and it is a farce about a man of low status being mistaken for someone more important. The primary pleasure of the film is the way in which the latter genre keeps rupturing the high seriousness which the first two depend on.6

For contemporary viewers, the film’s aesthetics and its eccentric vision of 1996 arguably contribute to the small cult following that celebrates the film. The fact that the art direction by Milan Nejedlý retains the aesthetics, fashion and décor of the late 1970s, despite trying to allude to a future in which it is possible to travel to destinations such as ancient Egypt and the ruins of Pompei, speaks to not only the limitations of making films under communist control, but also the film’s reliance on the viewer’s suspension of disbelief. To this end, the film’s future is manufactured through the presence of quirky visual gags in the form of a detergent that dissolves literally everything it touches, anti-aging pills that Klaus Abard and his companions pop like Tic Tacs, and an aerosol that renders its paralysed victims an unfortunate shade of green. Although Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea may lack verisimilitude, there is no doubting its life affirming charm. Under the directorship of Polák, a dystopian premise is infused with madcap, utopian promise.

Zítra vstanu a oparím se cajem/Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea (1977 Czechoslovakia 93 minutes)

Prod. Co: Filmové studio Barrandov Prod: Jan Suster Dir: Jindřich Polák Scr: Josef Nesvadba, Milos Macourek, Jindrich Polák Mus: Karel Svoboda Phot: Jan Kalis Ed: Zdenek Stehlík Prod. Des: Vladimír Mácha Art Dir: Milan Nejedlý Cos. Des: Theodor Pistek

Cast: Petr Kostka, Jirí Sovák, Vladimír Mensík, Vlastimil Brodský, Marie Rosulková, Otto Simánek, Valerie Chmelová, Frantisek Vicena


  1. A.J. Liehm, “Triumph of the Untalented,” Index on Censorship, Volume 5, Issue 3 (1976): 57.
  2. Liehm, 60.
  3. Liehm, 60.
  4. Peter Hames, Czech and Slovak Cinema: Theme and Tradition (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009), 8.
  5. Peter Hames, “Czechoslovakia: After the Spring” in Post New Wave Cinema in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Daniel J. Goulding, ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989), 102-142.
  6. Graham Williamson, “Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea,” Second Run DVD, 2005-2021: https://www.secondrundvd.com/release_more_tomorrow.html.

About The Author

Danica van de Velde is a writer based in Perth, Western Australia. Her writing on film has been published in a Dance Mag, Another Gaze and Screen Education, as well as the Refocus book collections on Michel Gondry and Susanne Bier. She was the recipient of the Senses of Cinema-Monash Essay Prize in 2019 for her essay on the cinematic self-adaptations of Marguerite Duras.

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