Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)

  • Well, the theme of this picture certainly will not be a subtle one at which we have to guess. “Honor Thy Father and Mother” the screen declares, following the opening credits & a brief text intro.
  • Beulah Bondi is playing Thomas Mitchell’s mother in this. Bondi was born in 1889, Mitchell was born in 1892.

Uh huh. Interesting.

  • The opening scene, in which Bark Cooper (Victor Moore) tells the children about the loss of their house, is pretty awkwardly executed. Victor Moore doesn’t pull off his part very convincingly – you can tell he’s just reciting lines. Also, you know how sometimes family units just work from the get-go, & you believe the whole dynamic & every relationship instantly? (Two (relatively) recent examples of this that immediately come to mind are THE FAMILY STONE (2005) and AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (2013). Also the TV show “Brothers and Sisters.”) This is not that. At all. We’ll see where it goes though, I guess.
  • George (Thomas Mitchell)’s wife (Anita, played by Fay Bainter) is a bridge teacher? Who ever heard of such a thing! And her class consists of at least 30 people! Wild!
  • Maybe there needs to be background music? All of these lines, followed by brief interludes of silence, feel very awkwardly timed.
  • Oh hey! It’s Louise Beavers! I love her!
  • (Also, casting note – the other (visible) Cooper children are Cora (Elisabeth Risdon, who made a career playing “Mrs.”s, “Aunt”s, and “Ma”s), Nellie (Minna Gombell, of THE THIN MAN (1934) fame), & Robert (Ray Mayer, who I know very little about).) (Edit: Ray Mayer played “Taxi Driver” in MERRILY WE LIVE (1938) & “Piano Player” in THE OKLAHOMA KID (1939). Oh, now I know him. Not.)
  • (And, in case anyone’s wondering – Elisabeth Risdon was born in 1887, and Minna Gombell was born in 1892. Again…Beulah Bondi – their fake mother – was born in 1889. Sigh.)
  • How long is this goddamn bridge class?! It started & lasted a good few minutes, then Anita made Rhoda (Barbara Read) take Lucy (Bondi) to a movie…and when they get back from the movie, the class is still in full swing! Jesus!
  • The Parents Cooper are kind of goofy people – I can kind of see why their children don’t want them around 24/7.
  • Victor Moore is not very great in this, y’all. Sorry.
  • I do really like the Bark/Rubens friendship, though. (Rubens = the shopkeeper played by Maurice Moscovitch.)
  • Background music appears halfway through the movie. It helps.
  • The best part of this movie BY FAR is the end, when Bark & Lucy meet up in NYC. They take a demo ride in a car they can’t afford, then visit the hotel at which they stayed during their honeymoon, & they drink & dance & befriend people left & right. If the whole movie had had that dynamic, it would have actually been enjoyable!
  • Here’s the thing. A lot of people really love this movie. Roger Ebert really loved this movie. But you know what? It’s a crap movie, you guys!

Look, I’ve read Ebert’s review of it – and I understand why he – and the rest of its passionate fans – celebrate this film. It has a non-happy, deeply heart-wrenching ending that screams ‘This is how it is in real life! Real life is not full of shiny, gleeful, last-second miracles & everyone-forgives-everyone conclusions! Life is messy, and hard, and sometimes your children are shit, and often there is no magical, winning solution to the problems you encounter!’

I applaud that sentiment, and appreciate how gutsy it was for the filmmakers to produce that sort of movie in 1937, in the midst of happy, ‘Everything works out in the end’ films like PERSONAL PROPERTY (’37), EASY LIVING (’37), and THE AWFUL TRUTH (’37).

However – and it’s a big however – just because the concept behind a movie is solid & noble in theory – doesn’t mean the movie is well executed, in practice. And this is how it is, in the case of MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW.

Fay Bainter, Thomas Mitchell, Victor Moore, Beulah Bondi, Leo McCarey (who directed) – all of these people are tremendously talented & we have a thousand reasons to respect & celebrate each one. (Really, this is true.) But y’all – MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW is not one of those reasons. Let’s stop pretending that it is.

…Okay? Okay.

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