“Make Way For Tomorrow” (1937)

Directed by Leo McCarey
Paramount Pictures
United States, 92 minutes
Starring Victor Moore, Beulah Bondi, Fay Bainter, Thomas Mitchell, Porter Hall

I honestly do not think there’s all that much to say about Make Way For Tomorrow other than that, even 73 years after its debut, it is very hard to watch. It is heartbreaking and almost torturous to see a group of children abandon and separate their elderly parents, pushed by the troublesome, Depression-era economy. Leo McCarey’s film was a dose of reality, which is partly why it failed so miserably at the box office. Most people outside of McCarey fans and fans of cinema probably hadn’t heard of it until Criterion released it earlier this year.

The film can be criticized by the fact that the last act of the film is so radically different from the rest of the picture and then it turns around and delivers a sad ending. McCarey keeps the film grounded in reality, but when the parents (incredibly played by 40-year old Beluah Bondi and Victor Moore) meet together in New York City, the deathly serious tone takes a break. The New York that the Coopers spend their last moments together is one of fantasy. Our hopes are brought up so high that things might actually work out for the two of them and it comes to a climax when Lucy (Bondi) tells her family that they won’t be home for dinner. However, once their magical evening is over, the two make it to the train station and separate. Sure, we can hope that they will see each other again some other time, but the film does not allow that to really become possible.

Even though I have seen it twice since I purchased it, I never really thought all that much about it until now. I think I finally appreciate that title and perhaps it is something that shows that there is a positive in the parents’ separation. They are the ones who are making way for tomorrow and they fully understand it and know the pain that that brings. Their children are much older and have to keep doing their responsibilities, which offers them little time to spend with yesterday. Make Way For Tomorrow can be seen in this positive light. Tomorrow has to come at some point and even if it may hurt, perhaps its for the best.

Criterion released the title as a lower-tier, $30 release, so the number of features is small. The disc has just two: interviews with Peter Bogdanovich and critic Gary Giddins. Both discuss the career of McCarey in detailed fashion, putting it in its place of history. Bogdanovich looks at the film’s techniques and influences, while also reminding us of his friendship with Orson Welles (He gives us Welles’ great line that Make Way For Tomorrow could make a stone cry). Giddins also talks about the political framework during which the film was made. So, while that’s it, both are substantial pieces and very important to watch.

The package features artwork by Seth and a 30-page booklet with a few important essays that break down the film even further than Giddins and Bogdanovich.

The Verdict: This was a very timely release by Criterion considering the economic turmoil we’re going through in this country today. Even if it is a little depressing, don’t let that keep you from seeing a film filled with powerful performances and a tour de force in directing by McCarey. At this price-point you can’t miss it.

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