Let me start off by saying that I don’t like this movie. It isn’t because the acting is bad—it’s quite good, actually . And, it has nothing to do with poor writing--Vina Delmar’s screenplay is indeed superb. Perhaps it is because it lacks a strong directorial hand—no, that can’t be it, either, because Leo McCarey does a fine job as well. In fact, this is most probably one of his strongest films—he thought it was the strongest of all. So, what is it that I don’t like about this film? Quite frankly, it’s despondently depressing. It was like watching Soviet Realism with a bottle of vodka and a handful of Quaaludes. Now, don’t think I don’t like downer films—The Hours (2002) is one of my favorite films, and anyone who has seen it knows it has its Zoloft moments. Yet, the depressing difference between the The Hours and Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) is this: there is some light at the end of the tortured tunnel with The Hours. There is only darkness in the end with Make Room for Tomorrow. The film haunts me, and not in a good way.
Victims of the Depression and callous children, elderly couple Barkley and Lucy Cooper (Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi) find themselves separated from one another when they lose their house and have to go live with their adult children. They have FIVE children, but none of them can take both parents into their homes. Really? Somebody couldn’t roll out a cot or let one of them sleep on the couch? And, if that wasn’t bad enough, then they are faced with the fact that they aren’t even wanted individually. One son’s wife convinces him that they need to put Lucy in a rest home; and, a daughter convinces Barkley that he should move to California and live with another daughter because the climate will be better for his health. It’s difficult to believe that these two sweet, old people could have raised such ungrateful children. I’m sure this is the root reason why I don’t like this film. I would NEVER treat my parents like this, but I know countless others who would and they make me physically ill. The film is just too realistic a portrait of selfishness on an unfathomable level.
I would like to say that the only enjoyable part of this movie is when the couple reunites for one day before being shipped off to their separate destinations. They visit all the places they went on their honeymoon fifty years earlier and are unabashedly happy to be with one another. They get better treatment from the strangers they meet out that day than they could ever get from their children. Yet, alas, even this slight respite from despair is ruined when the couple part ways at the train station. They, and you the viewer, know that this is the last time they will EVER see one another. I’d rather watch Ed Harris jump out that window in The Hours one-hundred times than watch this pitiful couple say their final goodbyes “just in case something happens.” I really felt ill after I watched this.
Both Bondi and Moore are heartbreaking in their roles. I suppose I could blame their too spot on portrayals for my displeasure with the movie, but that doesn’t seem fair. I find it hard to believe that neither was nominated for an Academy Award—in fact, the film garnered no nominations at all. Really? Luise Rainer wins for portraying a Chinese peasant with a really bad accent in The Good Earth, but Beulah Bondi, who personified a granny put out to pasture, doesn’t even get nominated? Funny thing, when he won the Oscar for Best Directing for The Awful Truth (an excellent film, by the way) McCarey said thanks but that he got the award for the wrong film.
Final verdict: if you really love your parents don’t watch this movie. It will make you angry and depressed. Still, if you are someone who wouldn’t think twice about dropping them at the “home” and visiting them only on holidays (if that), please watch this film to see how loathsome you really are. If I have offended anyone with this—Good.
Kim, there are just a few movies that I am unable to watch again, as good as they were. One is Henry Fonda's The Ox-Bow Incident. Another is this one. I saw it when I was in my 30's, and I have not been able to watch it again, for much the same reason as The Ox-Bow Incident. Both movies are so good, of such quality, that they were too real, and hit me so hard because, as you said "...there is only darkness in the end."ReplyDelete
It's odd -- I love drama. I have never shied away from tragedy or depression, or sad endings. 99.9 percent of the great literature of the ages does not fit into the happy ending crowd. Perhaps Make Way For Tomorrow is just too close to home, about sweet simple people who are treated so badly. Perhaps it's our own fears about aging and being tossed away. I must say this one was harder to watch than The Hours, which was definitely hard to watch. The Hours was just SO down it numbed me and made me almost want to do the coffin laughter thing.
Very thought-provoking and excellent assessment, Kim. I'd like to highlight it on my sidebar series. And I'm with you -- if someone like that is offended, good!
I think you are right that I am troubled about how easily people can be tossed away...and I'm still relatively young. It's good to know someone else had the same reaction to this film as I did. BTW, thanks for the highlight. The stats say people visit here...they just don't comment. LOL!ReplyDelete
This is a magnificent movie and a rough one to watch. It reflects cruel thinking on how disposable older people become and is also surprisingly relevant to today's world with mortgage foreclosures and families moving in together to survive. Nice work here.
Here's a link to my own review...
Kim - I saw "Make Way for Tomorrow" for the first time earlier this year on TCM (on John's recommendation). I thought it was as moving as it was harsh. And the performances of Bondi and Morgan were, as you mention, heart-rending...I thought both deserved recognition for very fine performances.ReplyDelete
John, you are right about how relevant this film is today with so many people losing their homes.ReplyDelete
Eve, for some reason the early years of the Academy Awards were very sketchy. Some people who had no business being nominated were, and then those truly deserving were snubbed.
Kim - You mention an Academy tradition that survives to this day! I have to say that as much as I'm more familiar with the escapist classics of the '30s (which includes pre-code and gangster genre pictures), every so often a film like "Make Way for Tomorrow" reminds me of what people were really going through then. My parents were from families that were nearly crushed by the Depression, but rebounded. Mom's dad was a yacht builder (imagine the demand for yachts in the '30s and '40s!) and dad was from a long line of building contractors. I used to listen to their stories of their childhoods and couldn't relate. The hardship and deprivation of that time was something I'd never seen or experienced. I still haven't.ReplyDelete
Eve: The Academy is fickle. LOL! I really enjoy listening to people recount what it was like for them and/or their families during the Depression. Today, people, specifically politicians, don't seem to have a real grasp of what happened during that time.ReplyDelete
I agree with you. How can you really like a movie that makes you so depressed? Yet I had the feeling afterwards of having seen a true masterpiece. It moved me as it obviously moved you and the other commenters. That I think is one of the chief objectives of a movie and this one suceeds on score excellently.ReplyDelete
It's a very emotional film. The bluntness and cruel fate of the old couple is jarring.Delete
LOL My jaw nearly fell off when I saw your grade for this movie til I saw your rationale. What. A. Movie. Just utterly heartbreaking and realistic. The last day together was so well done, one last magical time together in the face of impending separation (kinda reminded me of an earlier movie, "One Way Passage")ReplyDelete
When I don't give out a lot of stars (and even when I do), I like to explain why. Obviously, you're a big fan of this. For me, it's just so depressing!Delete