Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey, 1937)

“Fifty years go by pretty fast.”


Only yesterday I was sent my next rental from LOVEfilm (the UK’s Netflix) and it was An Affair to Remember. It is a remake of Leo McCarey’s 1939 film Love Affair. The funny thing is, both Sarah and I were unsure how An Affair to Remember got on the list at all and I think that this film – Make Way for Tomorrow – is the reason why. And that it was on the “1001 Movies to See Before You Die” List… as this film is too. The beauty of Make Way For Tomorrow  is something that makes it so special and that’s why I look forward to Leo McCarey’s other efforts, including An Affair to Remember

Old-Aged and Beautiful

This film presents a fascinating insight into old age and the awareness of losing your loved ones. The two actors who play the old-age couple, strangely enough, were not that old when the film was made – relying on make-up to make them look old. Following from last weeks Touch of Evil review, it is interesting to note that Orson Welles stated that this film “would make a stone cry” whilst Ozu used this film as inspiration for his masterpiece Tokyo Story.

I vaguely recall a quote from Madonna whereby she mentioned how you always hear songs about people getting together and people splitting up – but never songs about staying together. This film shows that such a thing can be done. The older parents rely on their own middle-aged children to look after them and it is this juxtaposition between the arrogance of thier children combined with the parents simple expectations to be together. The narrative begins as the older parents reveal to their children that they need to move out of the family home because they can’t afford it anymore – and this is relevant as the “Great” Depression had only just passed. The children are expected to look after their parents and, selfishly, they choose to split the parents up and placing the father in a different house to his wife rather than take on the ‘hardship’ of looking after the parents together. To make matters worse, the parents are split up across the whole of America – the parents moved to the east and west coast.

Young-Aged and Selfish

We watch parents who miss each incredibly whilst their children are incredibly selfish. Anita, daughter #1, decides not assist at all, one Son keeps schtum and doesn’t help at all. Daughter #2, Cora, looks after the father but is incredibly insulting to her fathers friends and she gives her Father no credibility whilst the final son, George, who looks after Mother, is the most likeable –  but his wife has a problem and does not assist with his Mother at all. In one instance she becomes incredibly uncomfortable as she holds a Bridge game which her MOther-in-Law interrupts. Her lowest point, I believe, is when she confronts her Mother-in-Law as she hides a, potentially unimportant, secret of her daughters.

I think we all know how selfish we can be sometimes – especially if we reflect to our attitudes and selfishness in our teenage years. I think, without being a Father myself, when I have a family, it will be difficult to sacrifice my own families comfortable-ness for the sake of my parents – especially when I can pass the buck easily enough to my own Brothers and Sisters and demand that they take responsibilty. But this film is not about the kids, its about the parents – and how, sometimes, the kids are not as important.

True Love

What is brilliant about this film is how it captures the beauty of a long-term relationship – something that you don’t see on film that often. As a meal with the kids fast-approaches, the parents decide to bail completely and spend one final night together in New York. They visit restaurants and enjoy walks across the big apple reminiscing about how lucky they are to have each other. Its a beautiful sequence as the parents know they are dying and that time will pass.

This is compounded by sequences that precede the New York trip – especially one phonecall, whereby Mother and Father speak over the phone and it is clear that they are both unsure of how long they will live – will they die before seeing each other? These thoughts I cannot even comprehend as a twenty-something, but it is a thought that we should think about more often. Are we telling our partner how much we love them? Are we telling our family and children how much we love them? It seems, as you watch this film, there is never enough time. Every moment matters and yet we see the children who are clearly so self-centered – these touching moments are not considered by the children and, more importantly, the children have no idea how much their parents have sacrificed for the family (As an example, the parents have never been alone together for a holiday since honeymoon!)

What is the Point?

Having noted all these touching moments and the glimpses of beauty and tenderness between Ma n’ Pa it raises other questions – Is it important for children to realise what they should do for their parents? Or should older parents dwell on these issues and reminisce and consider death? What about the view on family and marriage? This is where a striking problem lies – because though we see such beauty and happiness… we also see a little, how should I put it, regret. Because it seems to imply that, post-honeymoon, your life is pretty–much over…
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