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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Make Way For Tomorrow: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
Make Way For Tomorrow: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
Criterion // Unrated // May 12, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted May 5, 2015 | E-mail the Author

Is caring for your parents in their old age the assumed trade-off for being raised by them? Maybe, maybe not. As a relatively new father, I'd like to think that my daughter will one day visit and take care of me the same way I've done for her the last five years...but sometimes, things don't work out like we hope they will. That's not entirely the case in Leo McCarey's almost-forgotten classic Make Way For Tomorrow (1937), in which elderly Lucy Cooper (Beulah Bondi, It's a Wonderful Life) and her husband Barkley AKA "Bark" (Victor Moore, Swing Time) have fallen on hard times: the bank's given them six months to move out before their cozy little home is foreclosed, and they've waited until the last minute to tell their adult children. In fact, it's only days until they'll be homeless...so by trying to resolve this financial problem without calling on the kids earlier, they've actually made the situation worse.

Of course, the children are more than willing to help...but none of them have immediate room for both Lucy and Bark, so it looks as if they'll be living apart for a few months. Lucy ends up with their son George (Thomas Mitchell, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), his wife Anita (Fay Bainter, Our Town), and their teenage granddaughter Rhoda (Barbara Read). Barkley ends up with his daughter Cora (Elizabeth Risdon, High Sierra) and hopes to find a job...but soon enough, he's bedridden with a nasty cold. The family interactions are formal at best and passive-aggressive at worst, and it's clear that the children view their parents as dead weight: Lucy is passed around because no one wants to entertain her, and the sickly Bark is resentfully fussed over. Every younger family member knows what they really want but won't admit it. Our closest thing to a breakthrough happens between Lucy and George: he and his wife have been planning to send her to a retirement home, and she feigns interest to relieve him after discovering their secret.

Viewers are given few comforts during the first half of Make Way For Tomorrow. Aside from a few playful exchanges and shrewd visual gags, one of the only characters to geuninely care for either parent is kindly Jewish shopkeeper Max Rubens (Maurice Moscovitch, The Great Dictator), who chats at length with Bark and even brings homemade soup before Cora rushes him out the door. So it's reassuring that things eventually get a little better for the elderly couple: they're reunited for one day before a final family dinner and Bark's departure for a drier climate at the insistence of Cora. Lucy and her husband of 50 years make the most of their limited time: they walk the city streets, are treated with kindness by several strangers, and even revisit the hotel where they stayed during their honeymoon. At Bark's insistence, they blow off the family dinner and spend the evening together, hoping to capture the spontaneous magic of their younger years before Bark's inevitable departure by train. It seems to work, at least for a few hours.

Make Way For Tomorrow is crushingly real, refreshingly simple, and entirely human, whether you're viewing it through the eyes of a self-absorbed grandchild, a reluctant son or daughter, or an aging parent. The lead performances by Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore completely anchor the film from start to finish, and they're even more amazing when you consider they're playing characters 20 years older through several layers of convincing makeup. The film's not-so-subtle reminder to "honor thy father and mother" has rarely sounded more convincing, thanks to its memorable characters, brisk but deliberate pacing, and possibly the best portrayal of a couple married 50 years you're likely to see. If that weren't enough, it even reportedly inspired Yasujiro Ozu to direct Tokyo Story a decade later.

Though it faded somewhat into obscurity as the decades passed, Criterion's 2010 DVD of Make Way For Tomorrow introduced the film to an entirely new generation, myself included. What's even better news is that this classic drama has been revisited for this Blu-ray, which provides a suitable A/V upgrade but doesn't offer any new extras. Still, the movie's the real selling point, and they don't come much more highly recommended than this one.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, Make Way For Tomorrow looks much stronger and more stable than their own 2010 DVD. It looks as if a new master was used for this release...and combined with the obvious benefits of 1080p and better encoding, everything about these visuals is more impressive overall. Black levels are consistent, image detail and textures are strong, and (most importantly) the film's strong grain structure is represented perfectly well from start to finish, which results in an extremely natural, clean, and crisp appearance. No obvious digital imperfections or heavy manipulation (including compression artifacts, interlacing, excessive noise reduction, etc.) could be spotted along the way, either. I simply can't imagine Make Way For Tomorrow looking much better on home video than it does here, and fans of the film will be enormously pleased with Criterion's efforts in this department.

DISCLAIMER: The screen captures in this review are decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.

There's much less to say about PCM 1.0 track, aside from that it's perfectly adequate and sounds a little better than expected for a film approaching its 80th birthday. Dialogue, sporadic music cues. and background effects sound relatively crisp and clear without fighting for attention, while the overall audio experience even manages to showcase a few modest moments of depth at times. Overall, this lossless mono presentation is true to the source material and purists will enjoy it. Optional English subtitles are included during the main feature only.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

As usual, Criterion's interface is smooth and easy to navigate. This one-disc release is locked for Region A players; it's packaged in a typical "stocky" keepcase and includes artwork identical to the 2008 DVD release. The thick Booklet includes reprinted essays by critic Tag Gallagher, filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier, and film scholar Robin Wood.

Bonus Features

Everything from Criterion's 2010 DVD; nothing more, nothing less. These recycled extras include two separate 20-minute Interviews with filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich and critic Gary Giddins, who offer an entertaining mixture of personal reflections and observations about Make Way For Tomorrow and McCarey, as well as comments about the political and social landscapes during the film's original release. These interviews are well worth watching...but most fans have likely seen them already, which makes the lack of new supplements all the more disappointing.

Final Thoughts

Make Way For Tomorrow was director Leo McCarey's favorite of his own films...and considering his lifetime of work, it's no surprise that it still packs a punch almost 80 years later. The film's touching, comedic, and heartbreaking portrait of a couple's twilight years and the generational gap that widens it may hit close to some viewers, making the film's most memorable moments---mostly via the eyes and words of Beulah Bondi's Lucy Cooper---all the more affecting. A top-notch supporting cast carries the rest of the weight, while the film's terrific pace keeps everything moving during its brisk 90-minute lifespan. As a whole, Make Way For Tomorrow still feels fresh and will likely maintain its sterling reputation for decades to come. Criterion's Blu-ray offers a suitable A/V upgrade over their own 2010 DVD, but the lack of new supplements keeps this from earning an even stronger rating. Highly Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.
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