[Film Review] Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)

Make Way for Tomorrow poster.jpg

Title: Make Way for Tomorrow
Year: 1937
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Director: Leo McCarey
Screenwriter: Viña Delmar
based on the play by Helen and Nolan Leary, and the novel by Josephine Lawrence
Music: George Antheil, Victor Young
Cinematography: William C. Mellor
Beulah Bondi
Victor Moore
Fay Bainter
Thomas Mitchell
Barbara Read
Elisabeth Risdon
Minna Gombell
Maurice Moscovitch
Louise Beavers
Ray Mayer
Louis Jean Heydt
Gene Morgan
Dell Henderson
Porter Hall
Rating: 8.3/10

Make Way for Tomorrow 1937.jpg

Leo McCarey’s no-holds-barred tearjerker strips away the contentment of an elderly couple’s twilight years, lost their dwelling to foreclosure, New York residents Barkley and Lucy Cooper (Moore and Bondi), summon their four children (a fifth is absent for living far-off in California) to seek out a stopgap, yet none of them can host them both at short notice, so temporarily Barkley couch-surfs in the cramped apartment of their daughter Cora (Risdon) while Lucy stays with their son George (Mitchell), shared the bedroom with her 17-year-old granddaughter Rhoda (Read).

Filial piety is put through the wringer when an additional family member moves in, of course, it will disrupt the status quo, but in George’s household, no one seems to anticipate that, crimped by limited space, Lucy cannot simply have a place of her own to rock in her armchair when George’s wife Anita (Bainter) is hosting a bridge class at home, also inconveniently embroiled in Rhoda’s seeming white lie, Lucy will later be taken to task by Anita, who accuses her of stepping in her toes apropos of parenting, and simply impute Rhoda’s disgrace to Lucy’s unwanted presence.

Barkley’s situation doesn’t go any better, the only leisurely time he can get is to natter with Max Rubens (Moscovitch), a shopkeeper he newly befriends and expresses how he misses Lucy and envisions a way to get out of their predicament (but reality soon kicks in). When Barkley is afflicted by a cold, a grudging Cora not only gives a harsh brush-off to Max’s visit, but also connives to get rid of her father by making heavy weather of the doctor’s advice. Meanwhile, when another daughter Nellie (Gombell), backpedals her promise (due to both her and her husband’s selfishness, birds of a feather!) of taking in both parents after a three-month interval, George and Anita consider to send Lucy to an elderly home, an awkward tête-à-tête is sagaciously if sadly pre-empted by Lucy takes the decision on her own volition, only to alleviate George’s filial guilt.

Whereas Barkley is scheduled to stay with their daughter in California (warm weather is beneficial for his health, apparently), Lucy keeps a lid on her forthcoming relocation when they have one last afternoon to spend before he embarks on his westering journey. Together, they amble along the streets, reminisce their sweet old days and are gladsome to be welcomed by strangers, eventually they stiff the farewell dinner with their good-for-nothing offspring, and dine in the hotel where they visited during their honeymoon, sipping cocktails and dancing waltz. The question McCarey brings home to audience is clear as day, if a total stranger can ladle out their kindness to this senior couple who have been much in love for more than half a century, one may wonder why their own brood cannot divvy up some money to at least rent a little apartment for them to stay together? Their train station farewell plays up their heartrending mutual understanding but as life still goes on, they also must pretend that their separation is just au revoir, everything will be fine, a hard-earned gesture of wisdom at the mercy of becoming old.

Meritoriously, in the leading roles, Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore (both playing roles much older than their real ages) hold courts with their well-round delivery, heartfelt affection and spontaneous finesse that collectively and compassionately imparts a layer of naturalism that can transubstantiate even the most prosaic words into the button that turns on one’s waterworks. In comparison, Bondi has meatier fodder to play with, which she registers with an additional sense of unsentimental self-knowledge.

By the same token, Fay Bainter convincingly fleshes out a taxing role as Anita, who is assailed by the delicate balancing art of comporting herself between a caring daughter-in-law and a supportive mother, whenever those two clash, predominantly, people opt for the benefit of the latter, like the title says: make way for tomorrow, but she is certainly not the worst among the bunch of ingrates. Thomas Mitchell also has a daunting task to perform, as his George is explicitly Lucy’s favorite, his guilt-ridden inner struggle is eked out from the sidelines.

No one wants to be bothersome to their closest kin, leastwise, making allowance for the person who gives you life, this is a line in the sand for any human who is compos mantis, and McCarey’s admonitory masterpiece is a trail-blazing paradigm in projecting a realistic eye on geriatric problems, lachrymose is our default response, so leave nothing in check, fellow viewers!

referential entries: Yasujirô Ozu’s TOKYO STORY (1953, 9.1/10); McCarey’s AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957, 8.4/10); Ira Sachs’ LOVE IS STRANGE (2014, 7.8/10).

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