Blog Directory CineVerse: Family is forever – until it's not

Family is forever – until it's not

Thursday, August 23, 2018

"What to do about mom and dad?" has been an age-old question pondered by countless generations throughout history. For proof, look to Leo McCarey's unexpectedly frank and predominantly non-sentimental take on this timeless sociocultural quandary, "Make Way For Tomorrow," from 1937. Orson Welles once said that this film would "make a stone cry." For some, it was a three-hanky night at CineVerse last evening watching and discussing this picture. Following are the major takeaways from our talk:


  • The ending is shockingly downbeat, startling and unexpected, especially for a movie of this time. And the mood and subject matter of most of the rest of the film is also sad and depressing. 
    • Consider that director Leo McCarey was known for making audiences laugh, helming several classic comedies. 
    • Consider also that this was still the Great Depression, when viewers often flocked to the movie theater to forget their troubles and take refuge in escapist entertainment, like comedies, musicals and romances. 
  • This film forces audiences to confront deep social issues and ask themselves, What do I do in this situation? There are no easy answers. 
    • Consequently, the film bombed at the box office, and McCarey was awarded Best Director not for this movie but for “The Awful Truth” in the same year. 
  • According to Criterion Collection essayist Tag Gallagher, Make Way for Tomorrow has three revolutionary cinematic moments: 
    • The first comes 40 minutes into the movie, when Lucy looks directly into the camera, supposedly at Anita but more importantly at the viewer. Anita stares back. “It’s a collision of eyes, and we’re in the middle. We become the repository of the space (and emotions) they share. Complicit indeed. If we feel tempted to pass judgment on them, we immediately know we can’t. Crosscuts of this sort, 180 degrees, are extremely rare in films… But once we notice and feel, physically feel, their eyes thrusting their souls into our hearts, the movie’s dynamics change from a trip to a torrent.” 
    • The second moment occurs at the 58 minute mark: there is a repeat of 180 degree cuts between characters who stare at the audience. Here, Lucy tells son George, and the viewer, that she wants to live in the old ladies’ home. 
    • The third revolutionary point comes “when Lucy takes charge of Bark…Insistently, she makes the best of the hand she is dealt…In attending to Bark, Lucy makes their last hours joyful and full when they could have been unrelieved agony…With moral command, Lucy accepts the inevitable defeats of life, defeats that are universal. And after Bark is gone, she's shattered, but turns to go her way, alone.” 
  • Many critics and scholars argue that this film doesn’t wallow in melodrama or over-the-top sentimentality. The proof? There is a minimal musical score used; and rarely is music used to emotionally manipulate you and evoke pity. More effective is the use of diegetic music, like the band playing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” which can elicit sympathy and nostalgia, but at least it’s a song playing credibly in the characters’ background. 
  • Interestingly, there aren’t obvious antagonists in this picture – not even the adult children. Roger Ebert wrote: “None of the children are cruel. They all speak with their parents kindly. There are no villains.” 
    • Recall that Lucy and Bark each have their flaws and aggravating qualities that plausibly motivate the characters around them. We see both sides of the story – the perspective of the elders and the points of view of their children and their peers. 
    • "What’s so powerful about the film is its level gaze. It calmly, almost dispassionately, regards the situation and how it plays out. No spin…The most powerful films often simply show you events without instructing you how to feel about them. It is remarkable that a film this true and unrelenting was made by Hollywood in 1937,” Ebert concluded. 
  • It’s also evident that the age of these elder parents – around 70 years old – was considered ancient by Americans at this time. In fact, the average life expectancy for men and women in 1937 was 58 and 62 years, respectively. Today, two 70-year-olds could very well still be working, active, healthy and relatively productive and remain living independently. 
    • Keep in mind that actress Beulah Bondi was only in her late 40s when this movie was filmed, and actor Victor Moore was merely 60, yet it’s telling that they both looked so much older, not entirely due to movie makeup. 
  • The movie also seems to lightly touch on other social and racial issues of the time – which was a real rarity for a late 1930s movie. 
    • DVD Savant reviewer Glenn Erickson wrote: “McCarey is also sensitive to issues often sentimentalized or ignored in 1930s movies. The Coopers' black maid is an employee with rights and needs of her own. When the Jewish merchant Max pays a visit to his friend Bark's sickbed, Cora slams the door in his face, dismissing his wife's chicken soup in a way that smacks of anti-Semitism.” 
  • Honor they father and mother 
  • The ties that bind – family bonds and their strengths and weaknesses 
  • Unconditional love and making sacrifices for the greater good 
  • Finding meaning and relevance in the waning years of your life 
  • The generation gap and the passing of the torch from parents to children 
  • Facing life’s fears and changes with dignity, hope, bravery and, ultimately, acceptance 
  • Tokyo Story 
  • Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans 
  • I Never Sang for My Father 
  • On Golden Pond 
  • Nothing in Common 
  • Duck Soup 
  • Ruggles of Red Gap 
  • The Awful Truth 
  • Going My Way 
  • The Bells of St. Mary’s 
  • An Affair to Remember 
  • Various shorts featuring Our Gang and several Laurel and Hardy films 

  © Blogger template Cumulus by 2008

Back to TOP