Arts & Events
Make Way for Tomorrow
Leo McCarey made a name for himself as the director of a string of sure-fire comedy hits. He directed the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup and had been the man responsible for pairing Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, forming one of the greatest of all comedy teams. But one of his greatest achievements was overlooked in its day and for decades afterward.
Make Way for Tomorrow is the Depression-era story of an elderly couple who lose their home and ultimately each other. The inspiration for Yasujiro Ozu's famed Tokyo Story, the film examines the distances between generations and the effects of societal change on families and the aged. It's a story that hits close to home as grown children struggle to navigate the delicate terrain between leading their own lives and caring for their elderly parents.
Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi, in the two superb lead performances, convincingly play characters much beyond the actors' real ages. The couple esssentially recreates the brief period of marriage when they were alone together, without children, without responsiblities, without a care. Having been shunned, shunted off or politely rebuffed by each of their children, the couple take a day for themselves and revisit the hotel where they stayed on their honeymoon. In the hotel, in contrast to everywhere else, they are treated with respect by everyone they encounter. The girl at the front desk welcomes them back after all these years; the manager buys their drinks, shares their table and listens to their reminsinces; and, in one of the film's most touching moments, the bandleader, upon cuing a modern dance number, sees that the couple is lost on the dance floor and cuts abruptly to an old-time tune they can dance to, the rest of the dancers immediately deferring and taking the change in stride. Old emotions are stirred; good times are not only fondly remembered but present and tangible. But the ticking clock reminds us that the evening is fleeting, that soon they are to part again, the husband leaving by train to stay with another of their children.
No Hollywood ending here; McCarey held his ground against studio pressure to soft-pedal the closing scenes, leaving us instead with an unsparingly emotional separation at the train station. There is no coda necessary, no follow-up required; these two people, who have spent their lives together, are now forced, by fortune, fate and family, to never see one another again.
Notions of family, home and homesteads are also at the root of Howards End, the great Merchant Ivory film based on the novel by E.M. Forster. Change is in the air again, this time in Edwardian England, as an increasingly mobile society and a shifting economy blur class distinctions and hasten the demise of the concept of the ancestral family home.
The middle-class Schlegels have lost their home and must take a flat in London, whereas the ruthless capitalist Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins) seems to have more homes than he knows what to do with. Wilcox and his family are stunned and upset to learn that his wife, on her death bed, requested that her own family home, Howards End, be given to Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson). They burn the request, but suspicions linger that Schlegel is somehow scheming to get her hands on the house.
Meanwhile a chance encounter brings a lower-class clerk into the Schlegels' circle, completing the film's class structure and highlighting the similarities and contrasts between each tier in a tightly woven plot of love and home and class and pride and forgiveness.
Excellent performances abound, from Thompson's intelligent and compassionate Margaret to Hopkins' severe and tightly wound Henry to Helena Bonham Carter's fiery and impulsively righteous Helen. The photography, set and costume design is note perfect, as is the discreet and sure-handed direction, in a film that, coupled with their follow-up, The Remains of the Day, represents the peak of James Ivory and Ismail Merchant's decades-long collaboration.
Criterion's new two-disc set includes documentaries about the film, its design and about the history Merchant Ivory Productions.
Howards End (1992)
Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)