Make Way for Tomorrow Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Children Just Don’t Understand

Existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Hell is other people.” That’s hard to disagree with, especially after seeing the way the adult Cooper children [George (Thomas Mitchell), Cora (Elisabeth Risdon), Nellie (Minna Gombell) and Robert (Ray Meyer)] treat their parents, Barkley (Victor Moore) and Lucy (Beulah Bondi), the elderly couple at the center of Leo McCarey’s heart-wrenching Make Way for Tomorrow, a film that provided inspiration for director Yasujiro Ozu Tokyo Story‘s (1953) script, which he co-wrote.

Based upon Josephine Lawrence’s novel, The Years Are So Long, the Cooper family sans never-seen daughter Addie, who lives in California, come together to learn the parents’ home is being foreclosed upon due to Barkley’s unemployment over the past four years. Unfortunately, his age has added to the difficulty of finding a job during the Depression and his pride kept them from telling the children so they waited until the last minute to inform them. None of the kids can, or “are willing to” is more like it, take in both parents so the couple are separated.

The way each adult child and their respective spouses responds, lacking love and commitment towards their parents, is very disheartening. Credit to the actors because they make you despise the ungrateful characters, who resent having their lives disrupted by a parent moving in and look for any excuse to move them elsewhere. This results in Barkley being shipped off to California by Cora and Lucy being sent to a retirement home by George.

On the day Barkley’s train is supposed to leave, a dinner is planned with the children, but he and Lucy decide to spend the day together without them. They have a wonderful time, reminiscing about their 50-year marriage while the children reflect on how they’ve treated their parents. At the station, Barkley talks of bringing Lucy out to California once he gets a job but they tacitly understand this is likely the last time they’ll be together.

The video has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. According to the liner notes, “This high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit DataCine from a 35mm fine-grain master positive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, and noise management.” The image is very grainy and the sharpness of the focus varies. White vertical scratches are noticeable and blacks vary in inkiness.

The liner notes also state, “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical soundtrack print. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and lZotope RX 4.” Dialogue is clear, but there is a slight hiss. The score slightly distorts when it gets loud.

The HD special features are:

  • Tomorrow, Yesterday, and Today (20 min) – Recorded in 2009, director Peter Bogdanovich talks about director Leo McCarey’s career and how he worked.
  • Gary Giddins (20 min) – Also from 2009, film critic and writer Gary Giddins also talks about McCarey as well as the political and social context of the film.

In his interview, Bogdanovich claims Orson Welles called Make Way for Tomorrow “the saddest movie ever made,” and it’s hard to argue with that assessment. McCarey doesn’t require the cast to overplay the story’s emotions as they hit hard enough played honestly and straightforward, especially for anyone who finds themselves caring for or needing care from a family member. Although the film could use a restoration, Criterion does a serviceable job with its high-definition presentation.

Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site.

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