12 December 2010

Make Way for Tomorrow

We just watched a movie with some friends called Make Way for Tomorrow. Released in 1937 it is the story of an older couple, married 50 years, who have lost their home to the bank and will have no where to live. They have 5 grown children all about mid-40s and no one will take in both parents--just one. So the parents are forced to split up and live separately for what will likely be the end of their days. There is no happy resolution and the film ends with the father headed to California to live with a daughter while the mother will be sent to a "home for aged women".

This was a strange film in many ways--historically, 8 years on from the Great Depression, it clearly was reflecting the time, but the very title "make way for tomorrow" says all that the movie itself will say.

However, "tomorrow" is selfish and horrible. The pettiness of the children is monstrous and nearly unbelievable. A step-daughter cannot bear to have the mother even present at her "bridge club lesson" (she teaches bridge) where all the "students" are adults dressed in formal evening wear!

I often imagine a time, and that time must have been prior to the locomotive, when families stayed together, and I lament our modern detachment--but shit, this is 1937! When exactly were the "good old days"?

And of course I write this with a mother in Phoenix and family no closer than about 3 hours drive. But, I have promised--no matter the circumstances--I will care for my parents as they need it. I can think of no greater responsibility.


  1. I didn't think the children were selfish. In one case, the mother-in-law was threatening the daughter-in-law's livelihodd since she holds the bridge lessons at home. In the other, I have to think of my own brothers recent marital strife with his mother-in-law who moved in for a number of months. I think she was less well behaved than the movie version but nonetheless...

    I wonder if it was considered progressive in 1930's for the daughter-in-law to own a business like she did? Certainly the movie showed other progressive behavior such as the woman having a drink in the bar.

    I liked the unresolved somewhat sad ending. Bucks the hollywood trend. In the end we really are just individuals but perhaps a somewhat cynical view.

  2. Well, as I was in and out of the theater so to speak, I'm not sure I can be so specific as I'd like to be. I find it hard to believe the Bridge instruction was "livelihood"--though (correct me if I missed something) it did seem to be the only "work" done in the movie--other than the maid's work. I saw this endeavor as the "advance" of "meaninglessness" in our labor...advanced by "leisure" opportunities for a certain class. and I certainly never saw Anette "running her household".

    It's an interesting point that this might be termed "progressive" (like the women drinking in public) but to me it smacks of a false culture--characterized by tuxedos and evening dress. While Ma and Pa are kicked out of their home there is bridge class to think of!

    Yes, it's a clash of culture we're asked to deal with here, but my perspective rests with the old couple who are vindicated by the last ten minutes of the film--they have FUN and live their life in the company of memory and the kindness of strangers after experiencing the absolute detachment of their families.

    Of course--as you note it does seem to be an "in-law" focused movie as George seems utterly ineffectual and feckless and we see mostly the clash of two women (3 if you count the daughter and that odd sub-plot) in a world where men seem to either not work or can't find work or are too old to work.

    Wow, there really is a lot to think about here.

  3. I saw the culture as one more unique to new york city. Today perhaps they'd show the folks riding bikes through traffic jams.

    I was thinking of how the film may have been seen by depression era viewers. I've heard of recent college kids moving back in with their parents due to slow econonmy. Now they have that luxury because of parents baby boomer wealth. Back then perhaps it was a reversal.