“Honor thy father and mother.”
How simple and subtle a rule!
Our methods may vary
And end up contrary
To what we expected in school.
Our strained obligations
To past generations
Are wholesome but no longer cool.
Our lives take priority
Lest we be labeled a fool.
Good children are rarest
Where they be embarrassed
By wrinkles, dementia, and drool.
A list of excuses
Can equal abuses,
And lack of concern can be cruel.
MPA rating: Approved (easy G, though likely not of interest to kids)
Continuing with my 2020 Blindspots has still been subject to delays, but I’ll finish them one way or another, even if it means keeping my reviews short. It’s time now for the oldest entry on the list, 1937’s Make Way for Tomorrow, which seems to have earned the distinction of being a desperately sad drama long before more modern tearjerkers stained viewers’ cheeks and made this unsung classic fade from cinematic memory. Boasting a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes yet failing to earn a single Oscar nomination, it’s one of those films that leaves you surprised that it’s not more well-known.
Make Way for Tomorrow qualifies as what I call a Triple A movie, one that is All About the Acting. The performances are nuanced and subtle, a far cry from the histrionics associated with old Hollywood, with stars Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi in top form. The pair, both significantly aged up with makeup made seamless by the black-and-white format, play the elderly Bark and Lucy Cooper, who are forced out of their home by the bank and must rely on the goodwill of their five grown children to board them. No one can take both parents, so they must live apart; as they wear on the nerves of the kids and their families, everyone wishes in vain for some better arrangement.
Based on a play that was based on a novel, the script of Make Way for Tomorrow is notable for its realism and pervasive sense of empathy. It’s the kind of situation that many families have no doubt had to endure, and you can’t entirely blame anyone for their frustration with it. One daughter (Elisabeth Risdon) who takes in Pa Cooper seems needlessly harsh and impatient, but Pa Cooper also acts opinionated and stubborn as he misses his wife. We can all say how we would act in such a situation, but I expect most people would find they have less patience than they think they do.
Ma Cooper’s motherly idiosyncrasies in the home of her son George (Thomas Mitchell) brought to mind the more humorous aggravation from Doris Roberts’ Marie on Everybody Loves Raymond, and it’s a testament to the authenticity of the characters that such universal circumstances can inspire both comedy and drama. Bondi as Ma Cooper is the real heart of the film, and her last selfless scene with her son is a punch to the heartstrings. (It’s interesting to note that she plays Thomas Mitchell’s mother here, while she would play his sister nine years later in It’s a Wonderful Life.) By the end, I’ll admit the film does seem longer than its relatively short 91-minute runtime, but Moore and Bondi fill their few scenes together with the comfortable chemistry of a couple whose love has persisted through decades, which only makes the pitiable situation sadder. The director, Leo McCarey, actually won the Best Director Academy Award that year for The Awful Truth but said on stage that he thought they “gave it to [him] for the wrong picture”; I haven’t seen The Awful Truth myself, but I tend to think he was right.
Best line: (Lucy Cooper, quoting a poem, the source of which I’m still unsure but it deserves a place on my Poems in Movies list)
A man and a maid stood hand in hand
Bound by a tiny wedding band.
Before them lay the uncertain years
That promised joy and maybe tears.
“Is she afraid?” thought the man of the maid.
“Darling,” he said in a tender voice,
“Tell me. Do you regret your choice?
We know not where the road may wind,
Or what strange byways we may find.
Are you afraid?” said the man to the maid.
She raised her eyes and spoke at last.
“My dear,” she said, “the die is cast.
The vows have been spoken. The rice has been thrown.
Into the future we’ll travel alone.
With you,” said the maid, “I’m not afraid.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2021 S.G. Liput
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