HONOR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER… A pretty simple but very powerful phrase. Words are not enough to explain the feelings I had upon watching the Criterion release of Make Way For Tomorrow originally shown in 1937. It definitely struck an emotional chord inside of me. After I immigrated to the United States in 1994, I always wondered when I would be able to re-unite with my parents. I finally had the opportunity to take care of them after my petition for them was granted and they emigrated here from the Philippines to the USA in 2002. My father who had prior experience in living in the US after he was sponsored by the Philippine Navy to train in the US Naval Academy in San Diego for a few years after WWII had an easier time adjusting to the move. He definitely instilled in me a lot of Western influence that shaped how I grew up. My mother who was a teacher on the other hand, had a harder time adjusting to the “Culture Shock” but eventually settled in.
Those were really happy times. Spending time catching up and reminiscing my childhood, and finally meeting their grandson. It will be short-lived and bittersweet though as my “Papa” was stricken by a terminal illness after a year and decided to go back home to the Philippines to spend the rest of his life there. It was a gut wrenching feeling having to bring them back to their flight back home. He eventually succumbed to his illness and my “Mama” followed him in heaven a few years after from stroke complications. I will be eternally grateful to my sister and her family who took care of them through all this back home and my wife for being so supportive and allowing me the opportunity to give back a little. I wished I had more time with them but in life you sometimes just have to play the cards you are dealt with. God Bless their souls.
Make Way for Tomorrow, by Leo McCarey, is one of the great unsung Hollywood masterpieces, a very moving Depression-era depiction of the frustrations of family, aging, and the generation gap. An inspiration for Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story, this is among American cinema’s purest emotionally driven films.
Leo McCarey, made his name with his comedic flair. He was the first to pair Laurel and Hardy, he directed the best Marx Brothers’ movie (“Duck Soup”). In the same year as “Make Way for Tomorrow,” he made Cary Grant a star in “The Awful Truth.” When McCarey won the Best Director Oscar for the latter, Peter Bogdanovich tells us, he stood up and said, “You gave it to me for the wrong picture.” It was quite a different tone of film he made that Mr. Orson Welles said that, “This movie can even make a stone cry.”
The plot concerns an elderly couple Barkley Cooper (Victor Moore) and Lucy Cooper (Beulah Bondi) who was forced to separate after 50 years of marriage when they lose their house during the great depression due to foreclosure and none of their five children will take both parents and so has to be separated.
It’s all supposed to be a temporary arrangement for three months or so until the children can arrange something more permanent. Lucy goes to live with her son George (Thomas Mitchell) but she always seems to be in the way, especially when George’s wife Anita (Fay Bainter) is teaching her bridge class. Barkley goes to live with his daughter Cora (Elisabeth Risdon), who obvious resents his very presence and arranges for him to go live in California with another of his children. Lucy was eventually told by her favorite son George that he also arranged her transfer to a nursing home in what was one of the most touching scenes of this film.
Lucy and Barkley do their best to maintain their dignity all the while but their distance apart and longing for each other was starting to manifest their loneliness.Their children arrange for them to meet in the city before Barkley gets on the train for California. There’s also a family dinner planned for the evening, but Bark and Lucy made their own plans to go out and spend one last afternoon together before having a farewell dinner with the four children. They had a great time strolling around the city and reminiscing about their happy years together, even had a car dealer (while trying to sell them a car) drive them to “The Vogard”, the same hotel in which they had stayed on their honeymoon 50 years prior. Their day is made so pleasant partly because of the kindness of people they encounter, who, although strangers, seem to find them a charming couple, to genuinely enjoy their company, and to treat them with respect, which is in stark contrast to the treatment the two are received from their children.
Eventually Barkley and Lucy decide to continue their wonderful day by skipping the farewell dinner and dining at the hotel instead; when Barkley informs their daughter with a dry phone call, it prompts introspection among the four children. Son Robert (Ray Meyer) suggests that each of the children has always known that collectively they are “probably the most good-for-nothing bunch of kids that were ever raised, but it didn’t bother us much until we found out that Pop knew it too.” George notes that it is now so late in the evening that they won’t even have time to meet their parents at the train station to send off their father. He says that he deliberately let the time pass until it was too late because he figured their parents would prefer to be alone. Nell (Minna Gombell) objects that if they don’t go to the station, their parents “will think we’re terrible,” to which George matter-of-factly replies “Aren’t we?”
At the train station, Lucy and Barkley say their farewells to one another. This is one of the most heart wrenching scenes I have witnessed on screen. Barkley tells Lucy that he will find a job in California and quickly send for her; Lucy replies that she is sure he will do so. They then offer each other a truly final goodbye, saying that they are doing so “just in case” they do not see each other again because “anything could happen.” Each makes a heartfelt statement reaffirming their lifelong love, in what seems an unspoken acknowledgment that it is almost certainly their final moment together.
I want to personally thank my parents for bringing me to this world and showing un-conditional love and support for me to reach where I am right now in life. For always placing their children first and foremost before thinking about themselves. I wished we had more time together but I know deep in my heart that we will still see each other again someday.
Love thy parents while thou still have the chance to show them.
This film transcends all generations and is highly recommended to anyone born on this earth.