British Universities Film & Video Council

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Make Way for Tomorrow

2010. GB. Blu-ray (Region B). 92 minutes + extras. Eureka (Masters of Cinema series). Price: £22.99

About the reviewer: Dr Stacey Abbott is Reader in Film and Television Studies at Roehampton University. Her recent publications include: Celluloid Vampires (University of Texas Press, 2007); Angel – TV Milestone (Wayne State University Press, 2009); Editor, The Cult TV Book (I.B. Tauris, 2010); co-editor with David Lavery, Supernatural: TV Goes to Hell (ECW Press, 2011); co-author with Lorna Jowett, TV Horror: Investigating the Dark Side of the Small Screen (I.B. Tauris, 2013). She is the Series Editor for I.B. Tauris’ Investigating Cult TV series of publications.

Orson Welles famously told filmmaker and critic Peter Bogdanovich that Make Way for Tomorrow (dir. Leo McCarey, 1937) was the saddest film ever made and who am I to disagree with Welles. This film contains some of the most moving cinematic moments I have yet to encounter but does so without being maudlin. In fact the film is filled with humour and warmth, alongside sadness and disappointment. What makes the film so powerful is that it touches a truth that no-one wants to face, a truth about watching those we love get old or getting old ourselves, and it is as this truth seeps in that the tears begin to flow. It tells the story of Barkley and Lucy Cooper, a couple in their seventies who lose their home to the bank because they can no longer make the payments and therefore must separate for the first time in fifty years in order to live with their children. The film captures the fragmentation of family, with Bark and Lucy’s children dotted around the country, living separate lives, dealing with their own personal issues, and unable (or unwilling) to support their parents. In telling this story, director and producer Leo McCarey sensitively explores the complexity of family responsibility in the modern age. Our sympathies rest with the parents who are passed between the children with little consideration for their feelings for they see their parents as awkward and, at times, embarrassing intrusions on their lives. But the film does not judge the children  – although they do eventually judge themselves. The film invites the audience to reflect upon their position as children of aging parents but also their own future as they get older. This is a human story and there are no villains to vilify, only harsh realities to face.

Films about growing old are rare in Hollywood at any time but in 1937, during the Depression, this film stood in stark contrast to the escapist screwball comedies and musicals more typical of the period.  Yet this film was born out of the Depression and continues to feel relevant over seventy years later in yet another period of economic hardship. This is a timely release of the film by Eureka and a welcome addition to their Masters of Cinema collection. McCarey, is comparatively less well known today than other directors in this series, such as Lang, Mizoguchi, Murnau and Renoir although this is not to say that his films have been forgotten. In fact, quite the opposite is true.  His Laurel and Hardy silents are still considered iconic examples of slapstick comedy; The Awful Truth (also 1937) is as a screwball classic; Going My Way (1944) and its sequel The Bells of St. Mary (1945) are regular features at Christmas; and An Affair to Remember (1957), the remake of his earlier film Love Affair (1939) is an oft-cited (most famously in Sleepless in Seattle (1992)) template for the romantic melodrama. These films are remembered but rarely discussed in relation to their director and yet they each demonstrate McCarey’s skill with actors, his superb comic timing and his flare for conveying human frailty. These characteristics are not only present in Make Way for Tomorrow, but reveal McCarey at his best, clearly making his most personal project. This blu-ray release (also available on standard DVD) features video presentations by Bogdonavich and writer Gary Giddens and an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien. Each discuss not only the significance of the film but also McCarey’s contribution to Hollywood cinema, all of which go a long way to repositioning him within the pantheon of great directors.  This is a must see for any fan of classical Hollywood but be prepared: the tears will flow and, once begun, they will be hard to stop

Dr Stacey Abbott

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