“There are few American films as subtle, moving and bursting with human truth as Leo McCarey’s ‘Make Way for Tomorrow’ (1937), and few that have been as unjustly forgotten,” writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. “Never given a home video release in America, the film this week becomes the 505th DVD in the Criterion Collection, which is to say, it has finally gained its place in the canon.”
The film, said to have inspired Ozu’s “Tokyo Story,” is the Depression-era story of an elderly couple (Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore) who lose their home and whose children, busy with their own lives, see them more as a burden than anything else. “The movie is not a melodramatic tearjerker,” states Roger Ebert. “It’s so tough it might not be filmable today, when even Alzheimer’s stories have happy endings. The director, Leo McCarey, made his name with laughter and uplift. He was the first to pair Laurel and Hardy, he directed the best Marx Brothers’ movie (‘Duck Soup’), he made those films our priest sent us to see, ‘Going My Way’ and ‘Bells of St. Mary’s.’ 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.'”
Sean Axmaker blogs: “The last act of the film, a final night together before Pa is shipped out to California ‘for his health’ (but really to hand the obstinate old man off to another child), is as tender and beautiful and emotionally devastating as any scene from the golden age of Hollywood. McCarey’s compassion is with them and the gentle show of affection and intimacy from Moore, a former vaudevillian whose comic understatement expresses such love for his wife in the simplest of gestures, and Bondi, who smiles and nods and shies away from a public kiss with the modesty of a 19th century relic dazed by the 20th century world around her, is so genuine and unforced that it makes it all the more deliriously sad.”
Over at DVD Beaver, Gary W. Tooze runs down the virtues of the new transfer: “The Criterion shows a lot of grain and the improvement is greater than I was expecting. Light scratches are pushed beneath the surface. In motion this looks heavily textured and just grand. Detail is dramatically superior and there is much more information in the frame. I consider this an extremely important release for Criterion and, aside from some minor flickering contrast, my only disappointment is that it didn’t make it to Blu-ray from the esteemed distributors. I’m still delighted with this transfer and it will have a revered place in my library.”
DVD Talk’s Jamie S. Rich has word on the extras: “Peter Bogdanovich appears on the disc itself as a commentator. The director and historian talks about Leo McCarey in the program ‘Tomorrow, Yesterday, and Today.’ At 19 minutes and 50 seconds, it only takes him thirty seconds to mention Orson Welles–but he’s got some great stories about McCarey and gives some good info on ‘Make Way for Tomorrow.’ There is also a new interview with critic Gary Giddins (also about 20 minutes), focusing especially on McCarey’s position in life at the time of the movie, and how his biography influenced the film as well as how the political climate of 1937 influenced it.” More from DVD Town.