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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF DVD REVIEW: Make Way for Tomorrow

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#1 of 10 ONLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted February 15 2010 - 02:08 PM

Make Way for Tomorrow

Directed by Leo McCarey

Studio: Criterion
Year: 1937
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 92 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 English
Subtitles: SDH
MSRP: $ 29.95

Release Date: February 23, 2010
Review Date: February 15, 2010
The Film
When Leo McCarey stepped up to the podium to accept the 1937 Oscar for Best Director for the now classic screwball comedy The Awful Truth, he thanked the Academy but added, “you gave it to me for the wrong picture.” Yes, the movie that the legendary director felt he should have been honored for remained for his entire life his favorite film: Make Way for Tomorrow. This 1937 steely melodrama doesn’t have the zest of his Oscar-winning film of that same year, but its comedy-drama is carefully wrought and quite memorable in its own right. Was McCarey right or was the Academy? Generations of movie lovers have argued about it for years, but I think the Oscars got it right for a change. That doesn’t negate, however, the very real accomplishment present in Make Way for Tomorrow.
With their homestead foreclosed on by the bank, golden anniversary married couple Barkley and Lucy Cooper (Victor Moore, Beulah Bondi) find they have nowhere to go. Their five children balk at taking them both in; still in the midst of the depression, they’re all barely making ends meet, but they finally decide that son George (Thomas Mitchell) and his wife Anita (Fay Bainter) will take Lucy while daughter Cora (Elizabeth Risdon) and her husband Bill (Ralph Remley) will take Barkley at least for a few months each until other siblings can take over. But they don’t go out of their way to make either of the “interlopers” especially comfortable or welcome. Lucy must bunk with George’s teenaged daughter Rhoda (Barbara Read) while Cora puts her father up in the parlor on the sofa. With the loving old couple separated by three hundred miles and practically estranged from the households where they’re living, it becomes more and more difficult for them to reconcile their feelings of purposelessness and loss.
This is probably the least sentimental melodrama featuring old people dealing with the ravages of time that has ever been made. The screenplay by Vina Delmar is rather harsh and unforgiving with both Lucy and Bark. Lucy’s intrusion into Anita’s bridge classes is almost cruel in its directness and lack of tact. (A moving scene where a call from her beloved Bark must be taken in the same room where bridge is being played, the adults shamefacedly listening while Lucy speaks half truths about her life there, continues to haunt throughout the movie.) Just as unsettling is the icy treatment Cora gives her father who’s suffering with a cold, trundling him into the bedroom only when the doctor arrives so she can hide her cruel treatment of him. Later when dear elderly merchant Max Rubens (Maurice Moscovitch) brings over some soup, she tries to mask her shameful treatment with outrage at his effrontery, but Max easily puts her in her place. The unpleasantness and barely masked resentment is forgotten in the film’s last half hour, an idyllic reunion of the couple for a sort of “condemned man’s last meal” (he’s being shipped off to California; she’s going to an old age home for women) as they return to the site of their honeymoon and are given a royal reception by strangers, the antithesis of their treatment during the film’s preceding hour by their own children. It certainly helps to make the film’s final agonizing moments more endurable.
Beulah Bondi gives the film’s most astonishing performance. Playing a character clearly twenty or thirty years her senior, she’s completely and utterly believable and heartrending in every scene as the loving mother who simply can’t seem to do anything right. Victor Moore, certainly better known as a comic presence in scores of movies before this one, plays against type here and offers a lovely, affectionate glimpse of resigned old age. Future Oscar-winners Thomas Mitchell and Fay Bainter play off one another’s guilt and guile beautifully while Maurice Moscovitch steals all of his scenes as the amiable storekeeper who can offer friendship and simple advice without expecting anything in return. Louise Beavers as the maid Mamie also figures wonderfully in a couple of quite unforgettable scenes.
Video Quality
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1 is faithfully delivered in this transfer with the image slightly windowboxed in Criterion’s usual fashion with Academy ratio films. The image is grainier than those of some other films from the 1930s, but the transfer handles the grain well. Grayscale rendering is adequate without the deepest depths of black, and you’ll note a couple of white scratches that show up momentarily. The film has been divided into 11 chapters.
Audio Quality
The Dolby Digital 1.0 sound mix is very typical for its era. There isn’t a great deal of fidelity to the sound with rather limited high and low ends though dialogue is certainly clear and distinct enough. There is constant if low level hiss present, however, with the engineers unable to remove it entirely from the soundtrack.
Special Features
“Tomorrow, Yesterday, and Today” is a 19 ¾-minute video interview with writer-director Peter Bogdanovich detailing the career of writer-director Leo McCarey. Produced in 2009, this interview is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Film critic Gary Giddins speaks for 20 ¼ minutes on the film’s achievements, its handling of the move away from children assuming responsibility for their aging parents, and its place in the film oeuvre of Leo McCarey. Also produced in 2009, it’s likewise presented in anamorphic widescreen.
The enclosed 30-page booklet contains complete cast and crew lists, a selection of stills from the film, and three fascinating essays: critic Tag Gallagher’s analysis of the movie in depth, director Bernard Tavernier’s celebration of the movie and his memorable first and subsequent encounters with it, and excerpts from critic Robin Wood’s examination of the movie in his book Sexual Politics & Narrative Film.
In Conclusion
3.5/5 (not an average)
One of the least seen films in the career of Oscar-winning director Leo McCarey, Make Way for Tomorrow now comes to DVD courtesy of the Criterion Collection. We welcome it to the fold with open arms. Now fans of the director can see both The Awful Truth and Make Way for Tomorrow to decide which film was the more deserving choice for awards that year.
Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC

#2 of 10 ONLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted February 15 2010 - 02:40 PM

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#3 of 10 ONLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted February 15 2010 - 02:41 PM

Sorry for the duplicate posts.

#4 of 10 ONLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted February 15 2010 - 02:44 PM

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#5 of 10 OFFLINE   Adam_S



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Posted March 02 2010 - 10:34 AM

seeing this released made me think of some HTF good-ol-days.  This film is on the S&S HTF challenge, and is one of the most difficult to find--the most difficult american film to find--and at one point it got placed on the 1930s challenge as well.  I think one HTF member (Lew) managed to see/find Make Way for Tomorrow back in the early half of the last decade when those challenges were active, and otherwise, was impossible to find.  The film's never been released on video, is rarely shown on repertory, and outside of a print at UCLA didn't really exist for viewing (UCLA didn't even have a telecine tape of their print to watch.

So for many decades this has been an extremely hard film to view.

I eventually did track down a copy in 2006 via Eddie Brandt's, needless to say it was taped off AMC sometime in the late 80s and quite the well worn tape.  I'm really excited that this finally got a proper release and because I love the film a great deal (I'd consider it a top twenty of the thirties, if not a top ten) bought it day and date last week, first time I've done that for a SD DVD in a loooooong time. :)

I hope more HTF members discover it, it truly is a forgotten treasure of american cinema.


#6 of 10 OFFLINE   RickER



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Posted March 02 2010 - 10:45 AM

 Sounds depressing as hell!

Interesting that it is a hard to find film. But as for me, even if everyone on the planet has seen it...its not my kind of story.

Thanks for the review Matt, and the walk back into the HTF past Adam.

#7 of 10 OFFLINE   Eric Peterson

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Posted March 03 2010 - 12:53 AM

This is extremely high on my "To Buy" list. 

I'm in the process of buying a new home right now, and thus my DVD budget is much tighter than it has been for quite a long time.  Next month, this DVD is mine along with Nicholas Ray's "Bigger Than Life.

#8 of 10 OFFLINE   StephenAlto



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Posted March 03 2010 - 05:37 AM

 I've waited FOREVER for this film. I was lucky enough to see a new print of it in 1997 at Anthology Film Archive in NYC, and I cried like a baby. I've only seen one other screening since--around 2000 at Lincoln Center for a McCarey retrospective. 

I've gotten the DVD and think it's wonderful. There's five different essays/interviews, from every possible angle (historical, technical, philosophical, political, etc). Very well rounded. 

And the packaging by Seth is an especially nice touch. Around the time I first saw the film last century, I read Seth's graphic novel "It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken" and it such an acute sense of memories, without over-sentimentality, not unlike Make Way. If I were more free-thinking, I would have made a connection then, that similar notions are explored. (Seth's a great choice for the artwork, Ben Katchor would be my second choice.)

I was dismayed to read one online review that labeled as "a film I was always told was great but wasn't able to see it but not that I've seen it, I think it STINKS." He frequently labeled it syrupy and wishy-washy and all these other cliches that made me wonder if he had watched a different film. As for myself, because of my 13 year relationship with the film, almost exclusively my own, I have no objectivity. Frankly, I'm the last person you should ask about how the film is or what it is about. I'll spend half the time talking about my own life/parents/kid/etc!

#9 of 10 OFFLINE   Adam_S



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Posted March 03 2010 - 09:09 AM

Between this and Bigger than Life, two of the most highly regarded of the 'rare' (on video) mainstream American films are being released in a one month span, it's quite exciting.


#10 of 10 OFFLINE   Rob W

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Posted March 05 2010 - 04:44 PM

 Nice touch by Criterion to dedicate this disc to the late Robin Wood , who championed the film for many years and provided me with my only opportunity to see the film when I was a student of his many years ago.

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