Make Way for Tomorrow – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #505 (a J!-ENT DVD Review)
August 20, 2010 by Dennis Amith
A touching, heartfelt yet heartbreaking Leo McCarey classic. The film will forever have its relevance in American society today and the future as every family must deal with how they will handle their aging parents. A fantastic film and a worthy addition to the Criterion Collection. Highly recommended!
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TITLE: Make Way for Tomorrow – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #505
YEAR OF MOVIE: 1937
DURATION: 92 Minutes
DVD INFORMATION: Black and White, Dolby Digital Monaural, 1:33:1 Aspect Ratio, Subtitles: English SDH
COMPANY: Universal/The Criterion Collection
Directed by Leo McCarey
Based on the novel “The Years are So Long” by Josephine Lawrence
Based on the play by Helen Leary, Nolan Leary
Written by Vina Delmar
Produced by Leo McCarey, Adolph Zukor
Music by George Antheil, Victor Young
Cinematography by William C. Mellor
Edited by LeRoy Stone
Art Direction by Hans Dreier, Bernard Herzbrun
Set Decoration by A.E. Freudeman
Victor Moore as Barkley Cooper
Beulah Bondi as Lucy Cooper
Fay Bainter as Anita Cooper
Thomas Mitchell as George Cooper
Porter Hall as Harvey Chase
Barbara Read as Rhoda Cooper
Maurice Moscovitch as Max Rubens
Elisabeth Risdon as Cora Payne
Minna Gombell as Nellie Chase
Ray Mayer as Robert cooper
Ralph Remly as Bill Payne
Louise Beavers as Mamie
Louis Jean Heydt as Doctor
Gene Morgan as Carlton Gorman
Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow is one of the great unsung Hollywood masterpieces, an enormously moving Depression-era depiction of the frustrations of family, aging, and the generation gap. Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi headline a cast of incomparable character actors, starring as an elderly couple who must move in with their grown children after the bank takes their home, yet end up separated and subject to their offspring’s selfish whims. An inspiration for Ozu’s Tokyo Story, Make Way for Tomorrow is among American cinema’s purest tearjerkers, all the way to its unflinching ending, which McCarey refused to change despite studio pressure.
A touching yet hearbreaking Leo McCarey classic. The film will forever have its relevance in American society today and the future as every family must deal with how they will handle their aging parents. A fantastic film and a worthy addition to the Criterion Collection.
In the 1930’s, both Leo McCarey and Frank Capra are held to the highest regard.
Legendary American film critic Andrew Sarris wrote of McCarey, “McCarey represents a principle of improvisation in the history of the American film. Noted less for his rigorous direction than for his relaxed digressions, McCarey has distilled a unique blend of farce and sentimentality in his best efforts.” (The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968, Andrew Sarris)
For many classic cinema fans, McCarey was known for his directorial efforts in silent films for Hal Roach’s Little Rascals, Charley Chase’s silent shorts to directing many popular hits for Laurel and Hardy and also the Marx Brothers.
As McCarey is known for classic films such as his Academy Award winning films “The Awful Truth” (1937) and “Going My Way” (1944) in 1937, McCarey received recognition for his film “Make Way for Tomorrow” (1937).
Unfortunately, due to America was still suffering the sting of the Depression, American cinema faced major challenges in attracting people to the box office and despite receiving critical praise, the film was a box office failure. But since its theatrical release in 1937, the film has been considered one of the greatest American films of all time and a film that would inspire screenwriter Kogo Noda in writing the 1953 film “Tokyo Story” directed by Yasujiro Ozu.
McCarey believed that “Make Way for Tomorrow” was his finest film created and in his Academy Award acceptance speech for Best Director for “The Awful Truth”, McCarey said, “Thanks, but you gave it to me for the wrong picture.”.
“Make Way for Tomorrow” revolves around the Cooper family. The children are brought together at the home of their father Barkley (played by Victor Moore) and their mother Lucy (played by Beulah Bondi). The children are informed that their parents will be losing their home because Barkley has not made any money for four years and is unable to make any payments.
So, the children decide what will happen to their parents. Unfortunately, many of them don’t have the room for two people, so the only decision is to split them up for at least three months and each child can take their turns watching over a parent.
Lucy will stay with her oldest son George’s (played by Thomas Mitchell) home while Victor will stay with Cora (played by Elisabeth Risdon) for three months. But the truth is, the children have their own lives and having a parent live with them becomes a bit intrusive and we start to see how life for Victor and Lucy will be away from each other and how their children and their families deal with having to take care of a parent.
For George, he loves his mother but his wife Anita (played by Fay Bainter) feels that Lucy is quite intrusive to her personal life as a Bridge teacher. Since Lucy is missing her husband considerably and has no one to talk to, she is feeling depressed. Whenever Anita feels disturbed by Lucy, she tries to have her daughter Rhoda (played by Barbara Read) watch over her grandmother.
Meanwhile, Victor is not having that much fun living with Cora either. She and her husband are quite mean to him and if anything, he misses his wife a lot and the only thing he can do is try to find a job (which no one is hiring an older person) and making friends with store owner Max Rubens (played by Maurice Moscovitch).
With each parent missing each other considerably and have never been separated this long in their 50 years of marriage, they don’t know when they will ever see each other and despite their children telling them that they will reunite in three months, both parents have a feeling that they may never see each other again.
“Make Way for Tomorrow” is a film that takes place before social security and before there was any organized government programs for the elderly. The film gives us a snapshot of how things were back then for families trying to take care of their elder parents but also how relevant the story is today as families also must deal with this issue of aging parents and what they must do for them, especially with the social security program that was created to help those when they grow older, now probably not going to be existent for aging parents in the near future.
“Make Way for Tomorrow – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #505” is presented in 1:33:1 black and white. For a film released in 1937, the picture quality of this film is very well done. There is a fine layer of grain and scratches are quite light. Blacks and grays show a very good contrast and for the most part, the film looks very good on DVD.
According to the Criterion Collection, the picture has been slightly windowboxed to ensure that the maximum image is visible on all monitors. This new high-definition transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm fine-grain master positive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS ssytem and Pixel Farm’s PFClean system, while Digital Vision’s DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.
“Make Way for Tomorrow – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #505” is presented in Dolby Digital monaural. Dialogue is clear but I have to admit that at times, there was certain dialogue spoken by Victor Cooper I couldn’t tell what he was saying (more because of the way he was saying the dialogue), I had to rewind and turn on the English subtitles to find out what was said. But that is more about me having difficulty understanding the dialogue clearly.
According to the Criterion Collection, the monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical soundtrack print. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated audio workstation.
Subtitles are in English SDH.
“Make Way for Tomorrow – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #505” comes with the following special features:
- Tomorrow, Yesterday and Today – (19:53) A new video interview featuring filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich discussing the career of Leo McCarey and “Make Way for Tomorrow”.
- Gary Giddins – (20:09) New video interview with critic Gary Giddins in which he talks about McCarey’s artistry and the political and social context of the film
“Make Way for Tomorrow – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #505” comes with a 30-page booklet booklet featuring new essays by critic Tag Gallagher and filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier, and an excerpt from film scholar Robin Wood’s 1998 piece “Leo McCarey and ‘Family Values”.
“Make Way for Tomorrow” is an excellent Leo McCarey film that will always resonate strongly with me.
From the magnificent and heartbreaking performance by Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi, to the well-planned camera shots showing the emotions of the characters and most of all, the pacing of the film and not showing that one person is to blame but it’s a part of life that families need to deal with.
The issue of aging parents have been featured in quite a few films in the past but it was McCarey’s that really struck a chord with the audience and because of the film’s nature, released during a time of the Great Depression, Americans were just not in the mood to deal with a realistic and heavy issue, no matter how critically acclaimed the film was. It’s the type of film that many people just don’t want to deal with until that time comes.
And that was in 1937, flashforward 73-years-later to 2010 and its still a major issue today.
But the film tries to make the viewer sympathetic. Granted, you would expect the children to be a little more understanding and helpful after all their parents did for them, raising them and you want to see that same type of respect from the children to their parents but realistically, not many people in America are like that. We look at George’s family who has to take care of her mother and immediately, we know that things are not going to work out.
When George’s wife Anita tries to teach Bridge to her students who are wearing tuxedos and nice dresses, all Lucy wants is companionship because her husband is not there and no one else in the family is willing to communicate with her. So, she does what is natural. She tries to sit and be quiet and watch them play, but her rocking chair makes too loud of a noise for the students to concentrate and embarrasses Anita. But possibly one of the most interesting and saddest scenes in the film is when Lucy receives a call from her husband and you can feel the sadness in her voice of being away from her husband and really missing him. And just that moment where the students can not play because they are entranced to her conversation with her husband, it was a sad scene of the film.
But what is probably the most difficult scene is to see both Lucy and Victor together, as they visit the city and reminisce of the locations they one shared when they were younger. These scenes are not just fun to watch but it’s also very sad that knowing what will become of the two. During 1937, there was so social security, there was no government programs to assist the elderly and their children have their own lives and none of them have the extra room to take in both parents. Some of the children are willing to take one, others are not willing to do anything anymore knowing that having their parent in their house is a big responsibility.
And what is so sad is that parents have to go through so much in order to raise their children when they are young. But when it’s reverse and the children have to take care of their parents, too many decide its not worth their stress and none are willing to take on that responsibility. And for both Lucy and Victor, they know that. They know it’s an inconvenience and they know that what is going to happen next in their life, they know they may have to take on these challenges alone rather than together.
You can watch “Make Way for Tomorrow”, watch the excellent performance by Bondi and Moore and just see the faces on both Lucy and Victor’s face as they spend which may be their final day together as husband and wife. It’s heartbreaking and it was very noble of director Leo McCarey of going through with this film despite the studio wanting him to change the ending.
I have seen many Leo McCarey films and none have resonated this strongly with me than “Make Way for Tomorrow” and I know people tend to misuse the word “masterpiece” when describing a film but the truth is “Make Way for Tomorrow” is a masterpiece filmed and released during the depression-era. As heartbreaking as Ozu’s “Tokyo Story” or De Sica’s “Umberto D.” was in the ’50s and “Bicycle Thieves” was in the late ’40s, “Make Way for Tomorrow” was an American film during the Golden Era of Hollywood that really captured a storyline of family and aging parents successfully.
As for the DVD, the picture quality for this DVD release is very good and the two special features and the 30-page booklet were very good. Leo McCarey fans should be happy with this release as well as any Criterion Collection fan. It’s definitely a worthy release worth checking out!
Overall, “Make Way for Tomorrow” is a magnificent film that will stand the test of time and will continue to be relevant for many generations to come. Definitely recommended!
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