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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (1937)

Leo McCarey left his comic safety zone with this heartfelt family drama about an elderly married couple (Beulah Bondi & Victor Moore) who are forced to give up their home and move in with the kids. Problem is, no one can take them both, so they have to split up after 50 years together. The film is a beautifully observed character piece, and not without humor, but McCarey tends to overstate the little dramatic tics just as he might overstate small comic tics in his films with Laurel & Hardy, Mae West, Harold Lloyd & the Marx Bros. For comedians, this released comical invention; here, it borders on overkill. Even so, the rarely raised topic and uncompromising ending made the film’s rep in spite of (because of?) its quick commercial fizzle. And the film does have masterful things in it. Four or five set pieces are devastating, as is the entire last act. But McCarey is unable to carry his storyline without resorting to a few too many Hollywood plot contrivances. The strength of the film comes from McCarey seeing, as his friend Jean Renoir put it, that the tragedy of life is that everyone has their reasons. That’s why he can show us just how much of a pain in the neck, the parents can be to have around all the time. A final evening out and their farewell at Grand Central are generally hailed as the film’s best moments, but the true emotional climax comes in a late scene between Bondi and her favorite child, Thomas Mitchell, as they gently lie to each other about the future, hoping to shield themselves from the awful truth.

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