Make Way for Tomorrow
Directed by Leo McCarey
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 92 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 English
MSRP: $ 29.95
Release Date: February 23, 2010
Review Date: February 15, 2010
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.