Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)

12 07 2008

While it doesn’t live up to the ridiculous amount of hype it has produced, Leo McCarey’s legendary Make Way for Tomorrow does ultimately come off as being a fine film. Of course, it is nowhere near as profound and moving as the film that it famously influenced, Tokyo Story, but then again how could any Hollywood film? I’d argue that no Hollywood director could (or well ever in all likelihood) match the subtle tragedy of Ozu’s masterpiece. Not to ruin anyone’s expectations, but McCarey’s film doesn’t even end up being the Hollywood version of an Ozu film, but rather a great film in its own right.

An elderly couple is forced out of their home by the bank. The couple has produced five children, all of whom are fully grown adults with families of their own. At first the children are eager to adopt their parents into their households but circumstances lead to the parents living in separate houses. As time passes, the children quickly become bothered by the burden of their parents and realize that it is, perhaps, time for their folks to move on. The children plan for their father to take a trip to California while the mother will be sent to an old folks home. This gives the couple one last day to spend together and take in the sites and sounds of their past experiences.

The first hour isn’t anything really special, just a “character study” film in the Hollywood sense. In other words, very quick characterizations propelling plenty of side plots and trivial scenarios. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this, and McCarey does actually have a pretty decent comedic sensibility but these scenes, while much more easy-going and entertaining, are nowhere near as memorable as the final twenty minutes or so. It’s either ironic of completely fitting that the film’s most fascinating moments lie in the parts that seem the least attached with Ozu’s later and greater film.

Perhaps it would be a bit of an exaggeration to equate the final twenty minutes to something Wong Kar-Wai would do, considering that McCarey’s aesthetical qualities are so tame in comparison. At the very least, though, the final meeting between the two parents is just as great as what Alain Resnais did in the 60s. In fact, I would be willing to give McCarey more credit if only for his decision to not show any flashbacks but instead, have the characters reflect on their memories. Does this completely redeem the schmaltzy and manipulative sensibility? Hardly, but in all honesty almost all Hollywood films of the time period had such a style, if you can even call it that. Considering the circumstances, what McCarey pulls off is quite an accomplishment.



3 responses

12 07 2008

I can’t wait to see this film, seeing that you enjoyed it is even an added bonus because I know your feelings of conventional Hollywood cinema. I’ll try and get back to you when I watch it.

14 07 2008
Michael Kerpan

I see Tokyo Story as much more a “rejoinder” to “Make Way” — rahter than a “remake” or homage. I found McCarey’s portrayal of family life both unrealistic and manipulative. Some good acting by the parents, but not much else that appealed to me.

14 07 2008
Jake Savage

I see them as completely different films. It may be a bit manipulative, but I’d say that almost all Hollywood films from the time period were inherently so. A big generalization, I admit, but in my own experiences, pretty true.

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