Make Way for Tomorrow is the most beautiful love story you’ve seen this side of Disney’s Lady and the Tramp.
You just don’t become aware the 1937 classic is a love story until the film is more than two-thirds gone.
To understand why it’s a great love story — and why Battelle Film Club is bringing it — you need the set-up.
Make Way for Tomorrow is set in 1934 and based on a novel released that year. There were few social safety nets in the U.S. at that time. The Great Depression was in full swing, and Social Security was a year away. If you were past working age and retired and lost your home to the bank, options were limited: go live with family or live on the streets.
That’s where Barkley and Lucy Cooper find themselves in their golden years. Bad luck puts them at the mercy of middle-age children that are not particularly nice, mostly self-absorbed and not really open to helping their aging parents. As you get to know more about Barkley and Lucy, you can see why they’re somewhat troublesome to the kids.
He’s a sad sack, and she’s a bit of a busybody.
After the home is repossessed, Lucy lives with a son and his bridge-teaching, social-butterfly wife, while Barkley is forced to stay several hundred miles away with a grumpy, resentful daughter.
The parents disrupt the lives of their children, and the children keep looking for new and creative ways to dump them. Make Way for Tomorrow plods through much of the first two acts until Lucy and Barkley get a brief encounter before he is to be shipped to a different daughter living in California.
This is where you fall in love with them and with this movie. Their love is defined in muddled memories, a ride in a new automobile, a short waltz and in — pull out the hankies — an awkward but touching ending that will break your heart.
The film’s aging stars Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi give great performances. Age means the relationship is not quite fully charged, but a great script lets you see the magnets that drew the couple together 50 years earlier. It’s different from the chemistry we’re used to in love stories in that era and our own, and that is what makes Make Way for Tomorrow exceptional.
Director Leo McCarey won a best directing Oscar that same year for An Awful Truth. In his acceptance speech, McCarey, who also did An Affair to Remember and the Bing Crosby classics The Bells of St. Mary’s and Going My Way, said he was given the award for the wrong movie.
It’s likely you’ll agree. Oh, and as mentioned earlier, do bring a hankie. Or two.
Mr. Movie rating: 5 stars
Not rated, probably PG for some mature themes. It plays one time — 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3 — at the Battelle Auditorium in Richland.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.