Ten Word or Less Review: An unheralded classic rediscovered.
I can think of no better example of a forgotten classic than Leo McCarey’s “Make Way For Tomorrow.” Made in 1937, this towering work of touching realism has been off the cinematic radar for the last 70+ years. The good folks at Criterion have been kind enough to remind the world of this great movie’s existence by giving it a nicely restored DVD release. It’s a kind of rare, timeless tale that’s as relevant today as it was in 1937.
“Tomorrow” follows the lives of the elderly Cooper couple. Well into their golden years, hard times are forcing them out of their family home right at their lives twilight moment. Though they have grown 5 children, most of the lot aren’t able, or anxious, to take in Mom and Dad together. It’s eventually decided to split the couple apart, Mom living with the oldest son in Manhattan as Dad goes to live one of their daughters in a small town 300 miles away. Though 77 years old, “Tomorrow” is a portrait of how modern American life, then and now, has rendered youth insensitive to their elders. The Cooper’s children aren’t an evil or sneering lot of bastards, but they are people trying to live lives in which no space for an elder parent exists. Though both parents try to stay out of their children’s way, they’re a dotting couple trying to be useful and they inevitably mess up the family routine. At worst they can be seen as selfish, but their actions aren’t lost on them. The ending is by turns charming, rousing and eventually crushing. Those not openly saddened by “Tomorrow” need to consult an MD because you’re heart may be missing.
“Tomorrow” doesn’t provide maudlin moments of cheap emotion or simple answers to impossible problems. It’s largely about the powerlessness that comes with aging and the inability to make our children better people, despite all the decency we try to instill in them. That great, tear jerker ending is as open ended as much as it is heartbreaking. In short, it’s the kind of sad, honest, non-declarative movie people didn’t flock to then or now. It’s a Hollywood movie of rare insight into what hard times can really be like for aging people and those tasked to take care of them. Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi may have been 20+ years younger than the characters they portrayed, but both turn in top tier work as the aging couple in despair. Both instill a sense of life lived and deep humanity into their characters that makes them feel genuine. Moore and Bondi had long careers in film but neither seems to have a role as sharp or as lasting as the one here. Well known character actor Thomas Mitchell is the only actor in the piece who might be recognizable to most viewers because of his work in “Gone With the Wind”, “Stagecoach” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Director Leo McCarey would win the directing Oscar the same year as “Tomorrow” but for another classic, the Cary Grant vehicle “The Awful Truth.” Legend has it that as he accepted his award from the Academy he said he had won for the wrong movie. If time can show how blind the Academy can be to some movies them “Tomorrow” is a prime example that their vision was way off. “Tomorrow” received absolutely zero nominations but is probably a more relevant and lasting movie than any of the other nominees from that year. Any fan of classic cinema would do well to see it.