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  Make Way for Tomorrow The Parent Trap
Year: 1937
Director: Leo McCarey
Stars: Victor Moore, Beulah Bondi, Fay Bainter, Thomas Mitchell, Porter Hall, Barbara Read, Maurice Moscovitch, Elisabeth Risdon, Minnie Gombell, Ray Mayer, Ralph Remley, Louise Beavers, Louis Jean Heydt, Gene Morgan, Ellen Drew
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The Cooper family have been gathered on this winter's afternoon by the parents Barkley (Victor Moore) and Lucy (Beulah Bondi), the first time they have been together for a long while. The four grown-up children, the fifth one living far away in California and unable to make it, think this is to be a happy occasion, a chance to catch up with the folks but they have bad news to land on them. The Depression means the bank has taken back their home, and although they were given six months to find somewhere else, it has not worked out - so where can they go?

When Leo McCarey won the Oscar for his comedy The Awful Truth the same year as Make Way for Tomorrow was made, he told the Academy that they'd awarded it to him for the wrong film, and he continued to believe this was his finest work. In its day it had the reputation as being one of the most devastating of tearjerkers, and Orson Welles proclaimed it the saddest film ever made, but over the years it fell into semi-obscurity, though among those who saw it many still found it desperately sad. How it strikes you will likely depend on your own situation and relationship with parents or grandparents, but even for the cold-hearted it packed a punch.

The problem addressed here was what to do with the elderly once they had reached those twilight years and frankly were a burden on society, not to mention their children who feel they have to help them out, but also have their own lives to lead. Thus the overwhelming emotion was not so much sorrow, as you might have expected, but guilt: the Cooper offspring know that they owe it to their parents to look after them properly, but at best they're a nuisance, and at worst they're a reminder of their own selfishness, making them feel terrible for finding their own flesh and blood such an obstacle to happiness.

To make things even more heartrending, Lucy moves in with son George (Thomas Mitchell) and Barkley with their daughter Cora (Elisabeth Risdon) at a distance of three hundred miles away from each other, making the kids feel worse as they were only really happy when they were together and now have to resort to expensive long distance phone calls to stay in touch. Meanwhile Barkley and Cora drive those they are staying with to distraction, provoking arguments: McCarey and his screenwriter Viña Delmar (who had also collaborated with him on The Awful Truth) did not soft pedal the fact that the older Coopers could be highly aggravating, yet didn't lose sight of the essential sadness of their circumstances.

If Make Way for Tomorrow was depressing, it was because it reminded us of our eventual obsolescene, but until the end it wasn't really all that upsetting, simply a curious mix of the clear eyed, the sympathetic and the outright grim as everyone realises the family would be better off once the parents had passed on. It's a terrible thing to think, yet that is what the story contemplates, which could lead it to be accused of being far too harsh, as it's not as if there is no love in the relationships but McCarey seemed intent on facing up to a different "awful truth" than in his more celebrated comedy. Just when you think it's going to get utterly, scathingly despairing, the film offers a brief reprieve, where Barkley and Lucy get to meet each other once more, the implication being it will be the last time ever, replacing the moroseness with poignancy. You can see you're being manipulated, and it does become easy to resist for that reason, but only up to a point. Music by George Antheil and Victor Young.

[The Criterion Collection release this in Blu-ray with these features:

High-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
Tomorrow, Yesterday, and Today, a 2009 interview with filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich about the career of director Leo McCarey and Make Way for Tomorrow
Interview from 2009 with critic Gary Giddins about McCarey's artistry and the political and social context of the film
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by critic Tag Gallagher and filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier, as well as an excerpt from film scholar Robin Wood’s 1998 piece "Leo McCarey and 'Family Values'"
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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