Two Old-Fashioneds, For Two Old-Fashioned People: Make Way For Tomorrow (1937)

I realized as today rolled in that I had all but failed to blog this month, which I am constantly apologizing for during this semester.  It might get better in the upcoming weeks, but as it looks there is hardly any end in sight.  I even had big plans to do a Zatoichi marathon this month and that has managed to fall to the wayside.  My busy status is wholly revolving around things that I enjoy thoroughly though so it is far from a complaint and merely a reality, so for me to report back on the movies I am encountering necessitates two things to work simultaneously.  First, I have to be deeply moved in a way by such an encounter as to be determined to set aside time to write a blog about the film in question.  Second, this being profoundly moved by a film also has to occur at a time when I could still manage to set down for more than a few minutes and compose valid thoughts on the subject.  Since writing nearly half a month ago about Lilies of the Field I have seen some great stuff (Nanook of the North, Stalker and Love Jones) and I also saw some atrocities (Arcade and Broken Arrow).  I wanted to write at great length, but alas time did not allow.  In fact, Broken Arrow took me four miserable late nights to finish.  What I come to write about today is something so off the radar that had I not been fortunate to be a member of The POV Cineclub, I would likely have never encountered the work.  The film in question is Leo McCrary's Make Way For Tomorrow, a little film from 1937 that just happens to fit so delicately in the cracks between the classics of the silent era and the wonderful works of World War II America.  Were the movements altered in even the slightest of ways, this film would be completely overlooked.  While the subject matter is hardly related, I would not hesitate to assert that this has the same sort of rediscovered classic status that is afforded to The Night of the Hunter, here, however, the sentimentality runs thick only to dry up by the end and the narrative is not something that causes a viewer heart to begin racing, but, instead; to wrench in the most jarring of manners.  The open acknowledgement on the part of Yasujiro Ozu that this film was one of his major influences is no surprise, particularly given the staging and angles incorporated in this shot, never mind it possessing what might be one of the most curious breakings of the fourth wall ever committed to celluloid.

Make Way For Tomorrow centers around the Cooper family, more specifically the parents of the children who are now grown and living on their own at various locations within the United States.  The father George Cooper (Thomas Mitchell) is facing a reality wherein his old age and failing vision have led to his being less successful at bookkeeping and subsequently retiring.  Alongside George is his loving wife Lucy (Beulah Bondi) who is also dealing with aging and the inability to take care of major chores in their home, one that in the past had housed their four children, centering specifically on their oldest son Barkley (Victor Moore).  With the impending mortgage on their house becoming due George and Lucy are threatened with eviction, calling all of their children home to deliver the rather unfortunate news.  When it becomes clear that staying in the home is not an option, the two parents ask for help from their children, minus one who cannot extract herself from life in California.  While the children all attempt to save face, while also side stepping the burden of taking care of their children, Lucy ends up moving in with Barkley and his wife and daughter, while George moves in with the considerably disgruntled but nonetheless accepting daughter Anita (Fay Bainter).  While the two parents prove to throw off the tense infrastructure of the various spaces they occupy, they seem to want nothing more than to live under the same roof again, George hoping to find a job and have Lucy move in with him again, whereas Lucy attempts to be as amiable as possible to Barkley, even going so far as to help her granddaughter Rhoda (Barbara Reed) hide a burgeoning romance from her mother.  Yet, when these tense structures fall apart, it is the parents who are deemed the problem and Berkley succumbs to the reality wherein he must send his mother to a nursing home, while the family agrees that it is best for George to head to California.  Given then only a few hours of time together before what will likely be their last time together, George and Lucy spend the evening as thought it were their honeymoon all over again, completely overlooking the dinner they had planned with their children.  In the closing moments, the aged couple share a kiss and a goodbye that could give Casablanca or Brief Encounters a run for their money in melodramatic despair.

One might be a bit curious as to how a seemingly innocuous and overlooked romance/drama film from the 1930's could even begin to reflect the ideal film for this genre, but I will gladly put this in the same framework as Brokeback Mountain or Her, wherein it requires viewers to renavigate their understandings on how love works in film and who is allowed to be depicted in such engagements cinematically.  Indeed, if their is a more heartfelt couple in cinema than this, it is only in gradations, because where other romantic films are wrought with melodramatic sacrifice or one-sided desire, this is as intense a shared love as any and one that is delivered with such earnestness from Mitchell and Bondi respectively.  A 1930's romantic film is usually signified by its over-the-top performative elements, but the subtlety and simplicity at play here work wonders for the narrative arch as a whole.  The struggle here is not one of unseen forces (sickness, war or Shakespearean rivalries) which create an insurmountable barrier, but a unwillingness on the part of a few children to return the care and love their parents directed at them, assuming this entitlement to go on forever.  Indeed, as George carefully observes, it is at after the age in which it is alright to tuck them into bed that things get complicated, because while they still expect that sort of guidance, care and aid, their gratefulness will have either manifested itself or completely gone to the wayside, and in the case of the Cooper children it is decidedly the latter.  Even Rhoda who is capable of exploring the world of romance, is only able to do so out of the kindness of her grandmother, who is later exploited and blamed when Rhoda attempts to elope with an older man.  As such, when the two elderly parents are finally able to enjoy their last day together, the romance swells and the world suddenly seems wholly in their favor, between car rides and free cocktails the two receive more than they had hoped for and certainly everything the viewers had desired for the couple, making the fourth wall moment all the more curious, because it is as though the viewer is willing that kiss and George and Lucy break the fourth wall to remind viewers that it is their story.  It takes Linda Williams's notion of genre, gender and excess to its most...excessive, all the while blowing the lid off of presumptions about cinema of the particular era.

Key Scene:  The almost kiss and the turn to camera is so unusual that it takes the best scene, although Lucy on the phone during the bridge game is also quite good.

The Criterion disc looks about as well as a film from 1937 could hope to and frankly it is so overlooked that any love directed towards it could only aid a better transfer in the future.  Buy it accordingly.

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