With the Oscars 2 weeks away, let's look back 75 years and read what reviewers of its day wrote about a picture that went completely unrecognised by the Academy; and whose producer/director chastised its members from the podium for that ignorance when he accepted the best director statue for a comedy he made the same year, saying "Thanks, but you gave me this for the wrong picture." Can you imagine anyone having that kind of intestinal fortitude today; risking their careers with such a courageous gesture? Now that speech would have been the perfect special feature to include on this already wonderful release. (And just maybe, since MWFT wasn't nominated, but voter's still had the opportunity to cast their ballot for Mr. McCarey...maybe they actually did give it to him for this picture after all.)
VARIETY, Posted: Fri., Jan. 1, 1937
Rugged simplicity marks this Leo McCarey production [from a novel by Josephine Laurence and a play by Helen and Nolan Leary]. It is a tear-jerker, obviously grooved for femme fans. McCarey, who also directed, has firmly etched the dilemma in which an elderly married couple find themselves when they lose their old dwelling place and their five grown-up children are non-receptive. He keeps audience interest focused on old Lucy Cooper and Pa Cooper as they are separated, each finding themselves in the way and not fitting in with the two households (one with a son and the other with a daughter).
Victor Moore essays a serious role as Pa Cooper without firmly establishing himself in the new field. He continues to be more Victor Moore than an old grandfather, and he makes the biggest impression in the lighter, more whimsical moments. Beulah Bondi, as the aged Lucy is standout from the viewpoint of clever character work and make-up. She has some of the meaty scenes and makes them real.
Fay Bainter does splendidly as the wife of George Cooper, one of the sons to whose house the mother goes to live. Maurice Moscovitch, as the ardent listener to the old man's woes and who understands him better than his own children, contributes a neat portrayal.
NEW YORK TIMES, May 10, 1937
Leo McCarey's 'Make Way for Tomorrow'...has three qualities rarely encountered in the cinema: humanity, honesty and warmth. These precious attributes, nurtured and developed by the best script Vina Delmar has written, by Mr. McCarey's brilliant direction and by the superb performances of Victor Moore, Beulah Bondi and the rest, have produced an extraordinarily fine motion picture, one that may be counted upon to bid for a place among the 'ten best' of 1937..."
"Based upon Josephine Lawrence's novel, 'The Years Are So Long,'...the film considers, and courageously does not attempt to solve, the familiar but never commonplace problem of an old couple who, unable longer to support themselves, must depend upon the bounty of their children."...Bark and Lucy Cooper, whose home has been foreclosed...are compelled to call upon their five sons and daughters for aid. They had hoped to be kept together, preferably in a place of their own. But George and his wife have a daughter to put through college; Nellie's husband couldn't see that he ever had contracted to support his in-laws; Robert did not amount to much; Cora's husband barely provided for his own brood; Addie was out in California.
"So Bark and Lucy had to be separated for the first time in fifty years. She comes to New York to live with George and Anita, sharing their daughter's bedroom; Bark goes to Cora, 300 miles away. 'Don't you worry; everything will work out all right,' the children said. 'Well, it never has,' Bark replied. And, of course, it never does. The children are not intentionally cruel, nor are the old folk deliberately being nuisances. It is just that each stands in the other's way and there's nothing they can do about it...."
by Frank S. Nugent
(American journalist, film reviewer, script doctor, and screenwriter)
TIME, May 17, 1937
"The fact that a good story simply told is worth more than all the box office names, production numbers and expensive sets in Hollywood is one of those plain truths which the cinema industry finds hardest to assimilate...Taking a subject about which everyone has speculated -- the financial insecurity of old age -- the picture examines the case of Barkley Cooper (Victor Moore) and his wife Lucy (Beulah Bondi)...The story is presented with rare cinematic honesty. It is acted by Victor Moore, in his first serious cinema role, and seasoned Beulah Bondi with that effortless perfection which because it can come only from long experience, all younger actors lack. The result is one of the most persuasive documents about an old couple since the late Ring Lardner wrote Golden Honeymoon.
NEWSWEEK, May 22, 1939
"As household editor of the Newark (N.J.) Sunday Call, Josephine Lawrence conducts a question and answer column. The two most insistent problems she encounters in her mail are 'Must I support my father and mother?' and 'Why should my children turn their backs on me now that I'm old?'
"Around these questions she wrote a novel, 'The Years Are So Long,'...A Paramount producer-director named Leo McCarey read the book and saw a picture in it.
That was contradiction No. 1: a bitter, tragic story picked for the films. Contradiction No. 2 was the fact that the picker was McCarey, who once turned out slapstick stuff for Hal Roach...and was nominated by Charles Laughton as 'the greatest comic mind now living.'
"Contradictions No. 3, 4, and 5: McCarey wanted no box-office names in the cast; he didn't want to spend the United States Mint to make the picture; if Paramount would let him film the story, he would tear up his contract and work at reduced salary.
"That last gesture was Hollywood's acid test of faith, something more impressive than enthusiasm...Script was entrusted to the Eugene Delmars, who under the name of Vina Delmar wrote 'Bad Girl,' [and] 'Loose Ladies'...Production of Make Way for Tomorrow began and ended with few of the Hollywood 'wise guys' any the wiser.
"The 250 Hollywood correspondents and fan-magazine writers avoided McCarey's set. Their logic was irrefutable: if Paramount didn't think enough of the picture to give it major players, then it was nothing for them to write home about. They realized their mistake after the Hollywood preview...
"Make Way for Tomorrow' is undoubtedly one of the finest films to come out of Hollywood in years. The fact that critics were quick to label it as such may encourage other producers to tread on the fragments of the rules that Leo