There’s a sense of realization that hits the children at the end of the film that for everything that their parents have done for them, they remain all the more ungrateful. There’s a chord that strikes upon every viewing of Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow that just leaves me to reflect on what I’ve been doing with my life and it triggers a sense I’m still just not even sure I’m ready for what life would be like without the elders as much as they may have aggravated us. I’m aware there are certain aspects to Make Way for Tomorrow that may not have aged rather well but when you keep its very morals and intentions in mind, it still succeeds because the importance of its message is rather relevant in our world, and the emotion still feels as genuine as it did in 1937.
From the first scenes, we’re getting the idea that Bark and Lucy Cooper, the elderly couple whom we are to focus on, cannot stay within their home. This could go off as a tool for cheap emotional manipulation if it were made today but never does Make Way for Tomorrow fall under that realm. Every minute and opportunity he has, Leo McCarey places so much care and heartfelt emotion into the elderly couple’s love for each other for no matter how old they get, what they always know for the remaining days they have on earth is their love for one another. Therein lies what makes Make Way for Tomorrow such a powerful experience.
The youth are shown to us as people who are aggravated by their elders. We can sympathize with these youth too because we know there are those times in which our own elders have gotten on our nerves, but because of how the younger generation can sympathize with them is another part of where Make Way for Tomorrow‘s power comes in. It encourages a sense of reflection because as we grow older, there’s a tendency to forget that at a point in our lives, our elders have done so much for our own lives and they still are, and always will be important figures to us, adding more to the importance that the film plays from beginning to end.
What also makes Make Way for Tomorrow work so well is the simplicity in which it plays out, so it should be of no surprise that it served as an inspiration to Yasujiro Ozu’s famed Tokyo Story. And no matter which film you may prefer over the other (my personal vote goes to Tokyo Story), what can simply be agreed on is that both do their job so well. They don’t need so much conflict in order to get the power of their message across and all that really is necessary is how relatable the issue at hand is, because it’s always going to remain important in our own lives.
One of the most moving moments in the film comes from a scene in which Bark and Lucy are both staying at a hotel where they had their honeymoon many years ago. In this scene, the two of them go over to a ball and where we see it’s full of youths, a more upbeat and fast-moving song is played for them to dance along, and Bark and Lucy are unable to keep up with the fast rhythm. Eventually, the conductor notices the couple and decides to play a smoother rhythm simply for the two of them, and there comes the power of the kindness of strangers. You don’t necessarily need to know these elders in order to show acts of kindness, but when you acknowledge their importance in our world, it goes to show how grateful one is for what they’ve brought in, us.
Then come the final moments of the film in which Bark and Lucy are assuring their love for one another. As much as it may come off as melodramatic to some, the genuine nature to the emotion is why it works so well. When we’re married and we get to such an old age, we remember how we’ve vowed to love our spouses for as long as we shall live. The monologues made by each side give us a perfect reflection of the love that the two have maintained all their lives and in a moment in which may just as well be their final moment together, they go to reassure it in front of one another and therein comes one of the most heartbreaking moments in all of cinema.
Make Way for Tomorrow may not have aged very well in certain aspects, but let’s face it. The importance it still retains in the values of our elders is why it works so well in order to resonate with us, for it still is as powerful as it was back in 1937. Leo McCarey, most famously had stated upon winning the Oscar for The Awful Truth which came out the same year, “Thanks, but you gave it to me for the wrong picture.” McCarey, famous for directing comedies, grabs our hearts with nothing but the purest of emotion and Make Way for Tomorrow benefits off how genuine every moment of it is. Whether it be from the heartbreaking performances of Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore or just the simplest acts of kindness, Make Way for Tomorrow represents honesty amongst all of cinema. For when films like Make Way for Tomorrow exist, they show how there is still a lot to learn about life and how much it means to us.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Paramount.
Directed by Leo McCarey
Screenplay by Viña Delmar, from The Years Are So Long by Josephine Lawrence
Produced by Leo McCarey, Adolph Zukor
Starring Victor Moore, Beulah Bondi
Release Year: 1937
Running Time: 92 minutes