When Leo McCarey WOn an Oscar for 1937’s The Awful Truth, the director gave thanks but added, “you gave it to me for the wrong picture.”
The ‘right’ pic was Make Way For Tomorrow, a killer tearjerker that flopped among recession-year viewers preferring escapism to films about old age.
Their loss is now our gain: given a Blu-ray spruce-up, McCarey’s adaptation of a Josephine Lawrence novel plays as the Tokyo Story no-one’s seen, dripping pathos and poignancy from every pore.
McCarey was a crack-shot at comedy (he directed the Marx brothers in 1933’s anarchic Duck Soup), but here he quietly conjured darker emotional cataclysms.
When aged spouses Bark and Lucy Cooper (Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi) lose their home, they’re forced to move in with their grown-up kids, none of whom wants both. So the parents decide to shack up with separate kids on opposite coasts, and find themselves agonisingly parted. Geographical and generational gaps set the tender tempo.
The kids aren’t bad, just busy; the oldsters aren’t sentimentalised, just lonely and neglected. McCarey favours nuance over histrionics, carefully parcelling out empathy across his terrific characteractor cast’s naturalistic studies in flawed humanity.
Slow-trickle insights and emotions lead to weepie floods, though, when Bark and Lucy meet (for the last time?) before entering separate care homes. “It’d make a stone cry!” Orson Welles told Peter Bogdanovich, who quotes Kane’s king on short but context-rich disc features.
One more extra would’ve helped: as Bark and Lucy reflect on 50 years of married life, you’ll wish tissues had been included with this re-released treasure.
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