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Film / Make Way for Tomorrow

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Get your tissues ready.
Honour thy father and thy mother.
Exodus 20:12
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Make Way for Tomorrow is a 1937 dramatic film directed by Leo McCarey.

Barkley and Lucy Cooper, an elderly married couple, have just lost their house of many years to foreclosure. Instead of graciously offering to take care of their elderly parents, their adult children — George, Cora, Nellie, and Robert — are horrified at the idea of having them both in their homes. As a result, they decide to separate their parents, promising day after day that they will reunite them.

George takes the "burden" of his mother, and Cora takes her father. Knowing they are considered outsiders — even useless — in the fast-paced lives of their children, the Cooper parents try to make the best of their situation, but to no happy avail. Then, they spend a lovely afternoon in New York City, remembering those early days in their marriage, when the world was so promising and new.

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In its day, this film was panned by audiences for McCarey’s uncompromising ending (which he fought the studio to keep intact). Now, it's lauded for its subtle, beautiful story, observing the aging and the people they leave behind. Although obscure for many years, this film has made many a Big Name Fan: Orson Welles, John Ford, Jean Renoir, and even Yasujiro Ozu (whose vastly more famous Tokyo Story was highly inspired by this film).


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The Players:

  • Victor Moore—Barkley Cooper
  • Beulah Bondi—Lucy Cooper
  • Thomas Mitchell—George Cooper
  • Fay Bainter—Anita Cooper
  • Barbara Read—Rhoda Cooper
  • Maurice Moscovitch—Max Rubens
  • Elisabeth Risdon—Cora Payne
  • Minna Gombell—Nellie Chase
  • Ray Mayer—Robert Cooper

This work consists of the following tropes:

  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Mother Cooper and her creaking rocking chair during the bridge game.
  • Bleak Abyss Retirement Home: George wants to put his mother in The Idlewyld home for Ladies—just to get rid of something he deems useless and forgotten. Mother Cooper intimated in her letter to Barkley that she visited it, and didn't like it one bit, especially with all the many hints from Anita (George’s wife) that they would like to install her there. Mother Cooper—who knows it’s hard for George to bring up the subject—pretends she doesn’t know they want her to go there. But as George tries to muster the courage to tell her, she tells him she would like to go, just to save her son from the uncomfortable conversation, and to make it seem like she would actually enjoy it. Talk about heartbreaking.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Rhoda, George’s daughter, won’t invite her friends over, because her grandmother talks to them too much, and she lies to her mother, father, and grandmother about her scandalous affair with an older man.
  • Big Applesauce: The Cooper parents spend their last day together in NYC. It’s also where they spent their honeymoon.
  • Big Fancy House: All the brothers and sisters bicker that they don’t have room for both their parents when it’s plain to see they all live in fairly large homes that, if they actually cared and tried, could fit both parents fine.
  • Downer Beginning: The film begins with the Cooper parents reunited with their children, explaining to them that they can no longer pay the mortgage to their house. Cue to the children bickering who will have to take the parents.
  • Elder Abuse: When father Cooper is sick with the flu, his daughter, Cora, leaves him on the couch with barely a blanket to protect him; but once the doctor comes over, she makes sure to put him in the nice, big bed, and make it seem like he was there the whole time.
    • Mother Cooper's feelings are always disregarded, and their condescending attitude is none too pleasant either.
  • Good Parents: It’s implied that both Barkley and Lucy were caring and comforting parents; however, their hard work doesn’t show.
  • Happily Married: Even after 50 years of marriage, both of the Barkley and Lucy are still very much in love.
  • Irony: The Coopers are almost always treated kindly by strangers, while their actual children treat them like dirt.
  • Noodle Incident: We never find out exactly what Rhoda did, but it was scandalous enough for her family to have the fear of being publicly shamed.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: We don’t know what father Cooper said to Nellie, but it shook her up enough to leave her silently horrified. Lampshaded with George as he tells his brother and sisters that they’re terrible children, so they deserved whatever he said.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: Probably one of the saddest, hardest goodbyes. Played subtly, but with context of what the Cooper parents did all day. So, so heart-wrenching.
  • Where Did We Go Wrong?: Seems that the parents feel this. They may not say it, but they are definitely disappointed.
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