Make Way for Tomorrow

Released:  1937

Cast:  Victor Moore, Beulah Bondi, Thomas Mitchell, Fay Bainter, Minna Gombell, Elizabeth Risdon

SUMMARY:  During the Depression, Barkley “Bark” Cooper (Victor Moore) and his wife Lucy (Beulah Bondi) lose their house to foreclosure; Bark has been out of work for four years due to his age.  The couple have five children; one lives in California, too far away to visit, but the other four meet at their parents’ house one last time.  Bark and Lucy have been unable to find any other place to live, so the children decide to take them in.  However, only one of them, Nell (Minna Gombell) has enough space for both parents, and she knows her husband will be against the idea.  She agrees to take her parents in three months, after she has a chance to warm him up to the idea.  In the meantime, the children decide that Bark and Lucy will have to be separated:  Bark goes to live with daughter Cora (Elizabeth Risdon) and her husband, while Lucy goes with son George (Thomas Mitchell), his wife Anita (Fay Bainter) and their teenage daughter Rhoda.  Both Bark and Lucy try to make the best of the situation, but their children don’t share this attitude.  They are upset at how their lives and routines have to be adjusted to compensate for another person in the house, and Anita in particular looks for ways to stress this.  Bark and Lucy are far enough apart that they are unable to visit each other, and communicate only by letter and infrequent phone calls.  Bark looks for work in the new town, but is unable to find anything because of his age.

When Nell backs out of her promise to take in both of her parents, the other siblings begin to look for ways to get their parents out of the house.  Anita begins hinting at a retirement home for elderly women, but Lucy tells Bark in a letter that it is a dreary, depressing place.  Meanwhile, when Bark gets sick, Cora goads the doctor into recommending a change in climate — specifically, the California climate (where fifth child, daughter Addie, lives).  Anita actively looks into putting Lucy into the retirement home, which Lucy finds out about.  When George tries to break the news to her, she instead announces that she has decided to move into the home on her own, as she will be with people her own age.  However, she demands that nobody tell Bark about this move, as he would hate it.  Plans are made for Bark to move to California (there isn’t room for Lucy there either), and things are arranged so that he can spend the day with Lucy before going.  Finally together again, the couple spend the day reminiscing about their life together, and visit spots they once came to on their honeymoon.  They are due back for supper with their children, but are having such a good time that they decide to skip it.  Bark calls Cora to inform her of this, he bluntly tells her that he knows exactly what she and her siblings are doing.  This causes all four children to examine their treatment of their parents; George is particularly affected.  He purposely forgets to remind anybody about Bark’s train departure until it is too late, so that Bark and Lucy can be alone.  At the station, Bark promises to find a job and send for Lucy quickly, and Lucy voices her faith in him.  Then, “in case something happens”, both say goodbye and express their love for each other.  Lucy briefly runs alongside the train as it pulls out of the station.

MY TAKE:  What a horrible movie.  I mean that in a story way:  it’s very well-made and well-acted.  Director Leo McCarey actually won the Best Director Oscar that year, for The Awful Truth:  he famously told the Academy that they gave it to him for the wrong movie.  What is horrible about the movie is the way that Bark and Lucy are treated.  The title makes pretty clear that the pair are sort of out of touch with the modern world, but they’re 70 years old, and this was the 1930s.  Their children are awful.  Seriously, as somebody with elderly grandparents, this was hard to watch at times.  I can’t understand how all five of their children could by so selfish and unsympathetic that they couldn’t figure out a way to take in their parents.  They actually agree to split the couple up, after 50 years of marriage.  Then, they jump at the first chance to pawn their parents off on somebody else.  I don’t think they have hearts, because first of all, who splits up a couple that’s been together that long?  People like that, that have been married for that long, hardly know how to function without the other person.  It’s pretty obvious that at least a couple of the children are doing okay money-wise, and with five of them, you would think they could all chip in and find some small house or apartment for their parents.  Second of all, who wouldn’t take in their parents after they lost their house?  I know that for most people it would be a huge adjustment — I’ve seen it — , but how do you turn down the people who raised you?  I just cannot wrap my head around this.  If my parents, or any of my family for that matter, had no place to live, I would find a way to take them in, no matter what I had to do.  It’s heart-wrenching to watch, and gets even worse at the train station when Bark is heading to California.  I spent most of their last day time hoping that something miraculous would happen — the children would have a change of heart, some kind stranger would help them out, etc. — but that didn’t happen.  Then, you realize that both of them know it may be the last time they ever see each other.  They both know what their children are doing, and yet don’t seem to hold it against them.  Somehow, they also manage to actually leave each other.  I don’t get any of it.  I didn’t cry at this movie (I almost never cry at movies), but I did come close.  It’s just a horribly sad film.

Fun fact:  Beulah Bondi, who plays a 70-year-old woman, was only in her late 40s.

RATING:  Good, but very depressing.

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