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Make Way for Tomorrow

Reviews
by Peter Bogdanovich
April 30, 2012 11:51 AM
8 Comments
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Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi in 'Make Way for Tomorrow' (1937)
Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi in 'Make Way for Tomorrow' (1937)

Until a short while ago when the invaluable Criterion Collection made it part of their series of classics, one of the hardest-to-see, most personal, least commercial and least known of quality pictures to come from the American studio system was Leo McCarey’s profoundly touching 1937 drama (with some comedy) about a loving old married couple and their thoughtless grownup children, MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (available on DVD, with a video introduction for which I was interviewed). It was among Orson Welles’ favorite films, and as he used to say, “It would make a stone cry!”

Welles went on to exclaim that he usually always hated character actor Victor Moore -- “a professional Irishman” -- and never especially liked character actress Beulah Bondi, but that in this extraordinary movie they were both absolutely wonderful, and he would credit director-writer McCarey (1898-1969) for their brilliant turns here.

Indeed, McCarey was famous for drawing out fresh, seemingly improvised, always surprising and unusual characterizations from his actors. The very same release year as this lovely, heartbreaking film, which, as Orson also noted, “Nobody ever saw!”, McCarey scored a huge critical and popular hit with perhaps the definitive screwball romantic comedy The Awful Truth (starring Irene Dunne at her scintillating best and Cary Grant in his first real Cary Grant performance) and the Oscars voted McCarey best director for his work on it. Accepting the award, Leo thanked the Academy members, then added, “But you gave it to me for the wrong picture.”

Make Way for Tomorrow

In the last year of his life, I asked McCarey if he still felt that way and he said Yes: “It was the saddest story I ever shot; at the same time very funny.” The merging of funny and sad, in fact, became a McCarey trademark, most popularly achieved perhaps in his 1939 Love Affair (with Charles Boyer and, again, Irene Dunne) and his own 1957 remake An Affair to Remember (with Deborah Kerr and, again, Cary Grant).

The idea for Make Way for Tomorrow sprang from McCarey’s reaction to the death of his father. “We were real good friends,” Leo told me. “I admired him so much.” The scripts for both Make Way for Tomorrow and The Awful Truth were written by McCarey with Viña Delmar, whose Cosmopolitan short story about old people first prompted the director to contact her. “Old age is a subject audiences hate,” Welles used to give as one reason why this very special, guileless, and uncompromising film was never popular. But it perfectly exemplifies the comment Jean Renoir once made about Leo: “McCarey understands people,” he said, then added, “perhaps better than anyone else in Hollywood.” See this movie with folks you care about (and have plenty of Kleenex available).

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8 Comments

  • Tom | December 16, 2013 4:56 PMReply

    Welles missed 'em entirely.
    Bondi was a terrific character actress and Moore wasn't a "professional Irishman"'
    but a very funny "timid soul".

  • Valerie | June 9, 2012 6:16 AMReply

    Such a beautiful film, that anyone who wants to be a filmmaker should study because it's perfect actingwise, and perfect technicallywise and will break your heart while you'll laugh.
    http://silverparticules.blogspot.fr/2012/06/make-way-for-tomorrow-place-aux-jeunes.html

  • Philip Wissbeck | May 15, 2012 4:50 PMReply

    A good film. It did not fall prey to a lot of closeups but kept the wide view even on the scene when the lady had a very emotional farewell with a friend on the phone. That would have been easy to overextend.

  • Steph | May 6, 2012 4:30 PMReply

    It is a shame to hear such an amazingly well done film got nearly no recognition until recently. That is why I want to do a plug for the Film Fringe Festival. This is an opportunity for film makers to get their film screened in front of large audiences at the Fringe Festivals in Hollywood, California, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Edinburgh, Scotland. For more information on how to get your film submitted and about the tour please contact me at the following outlets:

    Email: filmfringetour@gmail.com
    Twitter: Filmfringetour
    Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Film-Fringe-Tour/265354213539619?ref=ts
    Website: www.filmfringetour.com

  • Michael van den Bos | May 6, 2012 11:32 AMReply

    Peter's introductions, audio commentary tracks, and special documentary appearances are always insightful and essential. I often play his THE THIRD MAN featurette from the Criterion Collection DVD in my Vancouver Film School film theory course and other film history courses I teach, as well as segments from his invaluable DIRECTED BY JOHN FORD documentary. Peter's comments on the DVDs of MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW and RULES OF THE GAME are mini film history classes in themselves. My students and I thank you, sir!

  • Christopher Denny | May 2, 2012 3:48 AMReply

    I haven't seen this one yet. But I know that if PB & OW recommend it, then I'm in for a treat. Of course, seeing this on the Criterion disc, with Mr. Bogdanovich's comments, is essential. But, if you are like me, and that's not an immediate option (even via netflix) then, for now, at least, you can view it here for free & in one piece: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5Y38jIuN9c

    Then, no matter what your circumstances, you can join the conversation...I remember seeing The Big Sleep for the first time late at night on WGN. The reception was almost non-existent. But I taped it on our VCR & watched it many times before obtaining a consistently viewable copy...I have to admit to a strange nostalgia for that low-grade, warbly, intermittent version. (Especially as it gave the soundtrack an unearthly, underwater effect.) And I was certainly dazzled to eventually see as it ought to be seen...So I'm suggesting, if you have no other way to see it at the moment, this will only whet your appetite for the true experience: The Criterion edition, complete with Mr. Bogdanovich's observations.

  • PB | April 30, 2012 10:46 PMReply

    Thank you so much, Blake; that means a lot coming from you. I'm touched, really. It certainly is
    a beautiful film, and I'm glad to be able to popularize it as much as possible, as I could tell when
    Leo spoke of it, how much the picture meant to him. So I'm certain his spirit rejoices at its slow
    but ardent rediscovery by sensitive people in these oh so modern times...

  • Blake Lucas | April 30, 2012 2:57 PMReply

    Just want to say, Peter, that when I saw this again on the Criterion I watched that video introduction the next day and thought you did such a great job there, seeming to me sensitive to every aspect of this beautiful, moving film. I've liked a lot of your DVD intros (several Renoirs come to mind) but this was surely one of your very best ever. In addition to knowledge of McCarey, of film history, and of social history, it had a real grasp of cultural change that would make it even less possible for MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW to be made now. Hey, I know no one saw it and it won no awards, but at least it got made! And that's the good side of film history--if a film has been saved and not lost it can find its audience eventually. This one definitely has--it now has many ardent admirers. Obviously, I'm one of these. In your video intro, I recall there's a point you mentioned four McCareys as especially great, this being one of them and the others RUGGLES OF RED GAP, THE AWFUL TRUTH and LOVE AFFAIR. I have to say those are the four I'd choose as his masterpieces--they are all really special movies, but I'd give MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW the edge as best of all.

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