Movie Review

Make Way for Tomorrow

Make Way for Tomorrow Movie Poster

US Release Date: 05-07-1937

Directed by: Leo McCarey


  • Victor Moore
  • Barkley Cooper
  • Beulah Bondi
  • Lucy Cooper
  • Fay Bainter
  • Anita Cooper
  • Thomas Mitchell
  • George Cooper
  • Porter Hall
  • Harvey Chase
  • Barbara Read
  • Rhoda Cooper
  • Maurice Moscovitch
  • Max Rubens
  • Elisabeth Risdon
  • Cora Payne
  • Minna Gombell
  • Nellie Chase
  • Ray Mayer
  • Robert Cooper
  • Ralph Remley
  • Bill Payne
  • Louise Beavers
  • Mamie
  • Louis Jean Heydt
  • Doctor
  • Gene Morgan
  • Carlton Gorman
Reviewed on: July 15th, 2014
Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore in Make Way for Tomorrow.

Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore in Make Way for Tomorrow.

It's really a shame that Make Way for Tomorrow has remained so obscure. It deserves to be more widely seen. It was based on a play that was itself based on a novel. Set during the Great Depression it tells the story of Barkley and Lucy Cooper, an elderly couple with five grown children. They face a crisis when the bank forecloses on their home and none of their five children are willing to take both of them in. I won't give away more than that as it gives you a pretty good idea of what's to come without spoiling the details.

Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi both gave Oscar worthy performances as the Coopers. Particularly Bondi, who was in her 40s at the time but was aged to look 70. This is quite simply her finest screen work. In one scene Lucy has a confrontation with her teenaged granddaughter (Barbara Read) about Lucy's husband Barkley. At one point the granddaughter callously asks, “Why don't you face facts, Grandma?” The old lady sadly replies, “When you're seventeen and the world's beautiful, facing facts is just as slick fun as dancing or going to parties, but when you're seventy... well, you don't care about dancing, you don't think about parties anymore, and about the only fun you have left is pretending that there ain't any facts to face. So would you mind if I just went on pretending?” I'm getting misty eyed as I type.

Leo McCary initially made a name for himself as a gag writer for Hal Roach in the silent 20s. He wrote material for the hugely popular Our Gang series before he began directing shorts. He worked with the then hugely popular, if long forgotten, Charley Chase, and is even credited as the man who brought Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy together. In the 1930s he transitioned to sound and continued to direct comedy legends like The Marx Brothers in Duck Soup, W.C. Fields in Six of a Kind, Mae West in Belle of the Nineties, and Harold Lloyd in The Milky Way.

But his impact on Hollywood didn't end there. He is also credited as the man after whom Cary Grant modeled his onscreen persona. He won his first Oscar directing Grant in Grant's first great screwball comedy, The Awful Truth. The two men bore a striking physical resemblance. What's more, Grant supposedly mimicked his director's mannerisms. McCarey didn't stop there however. He also directed the quintessential ship board romance Love Affair (as well as the remake An Affair to Remember) and he won two more Oscars for writing and directing the hugely popular and heartwarming Bing Crosby vehicle Going My Way.

The reason I bring all this up is that nothing else in Leo McCarey's impressive body of work gives even the slightest hint that he was capable of directing such an unsparing film as Make Way for Tomorrow. And yet he did, and in the long run this just might be his masterpiece. This is a movie so unflinchingly sad that Orson Welles once remarked, “ It would make a stone cry.” McCarey defied studio pressure to give it a more upbeat ending. The result being that Adolph Zukor did not renew his contract with Paramount.

McCarey made the right decision. The final scene is among the most eloquently moving ever captured on film and Make Way for Tomorrow is the great forgotten tear-jerker of classic Hollywood. It's amazing to think that McCarey directed this movie and The Awful Truth in the same year, perfectly capturing the masks of both comedy and tragedy. While accepting his Oscar for directing the comedy, he quipped, "Thanks, but you gave it to me for the wrong picture." As good as Awful Truth is, I think he was right. Watch Make Way for Tomorrow and see for yourself. Just be sure to have some tissue handy.

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