Make Way for Tomorrow
Directed by Leo McCarey
#109 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
IMDb users say 8.0/10 I say 9.0/10
I watched this as a companion piece to Ozu’s Tokyo Story, with which it is thematically linked. Both films deal with relations between parents and their adult children. This film confronts the issue more directly as the children are faced with having to care for their parents in old age. It is also one of the few films to portray married love in the sunset of life. Although it is a more sentimental story, it is also an excellent film.
Lucy and Barkley Cooper have been happily married for 50 years when the bank forecloses on their home. Since none of their five children is willing to take both of them, Lucy (Beulah Bondi) settles with a son in New York City and Bark (Victor Moore) settles with a daughter 300 miles away in the country. Things don’t work out well for anyone concerned, as the parents disrupt their children’s’ established routines and the couple pine for each other. They are allowed a second honeymoon in New York City before being again separated, perhaps forever.
Mr. Horton, Hotel manager: Only when you’re happy. How many children have you?
Pa: Five of them.
Mr. Horton, Hotel manager: Really! I’ll bet they’ve brought you a lot of pleasure!
Pa: [Ironically] I bet you haven’t any children.
This is a really heartbreaking film. I think I felt the saddest that the couple, who so clearly loved and needed each other, had to be separated. The children meant well but every one of them put their own needs first. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” again without getting tears in my eyes. Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore do an excellent job of portraying characters 20 years older than their actual age without once going over the top.
I kept thinking about what a difference social security could have made in this couple’s life. After all, these people were basically healthy and able to care for themselves. They just had no steady income and no prospect of finding employment. Social Security was enacted in 1935 and implemented in 1937. The film historian who presented a video essay on the Criterion DVD said that the film makes a powerful argument for old age insurance without ever mentioning it. I agree.