A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey, 1937)

Beulah Bondi in Make Way for Tomorrow
Lucy Cooper: Beulah Bondi
Barkley Cooper: Victor Moore
Anita Cooper: Fay Bainter
George Cooper: Thomas Mitchell
Harvey Chase: Porter Hall
Rhoda Cooper: Barbara Read
Max Rubens: Maurice Moscovitch
Cora Payne: Elisabeth Risdon
Nellie Chase: Minna Gombell
Robert Cooper: Ray Mayer
Bill Payne: Ralph Remley
Mamie: Louise Beavers
Doctor: Louis Jean Heydt

Director: Leo McCarey
Screenplay: Viña Delmar
Based on a novel by Josephine Lawrence and play by Helen Leary and Nolan Leary
Cinematography: William C. Mellor
Art direction: Hans Dreier, Bernard Herzbrun
Film editing: LeRoy Stone
Music: George Antheil, Victor Young

As the music ("Let Me Call You Sweetheart") swelled, and the train taking her husband to California pulled out of the station leaving Lucy Cooper alone on the platform, I muttered, "Please end it here. Please end it here." And so Leo McCarey, bless him, did. He could have, as the studio wanted, moved on to a mawkish conclusion, pulling a sentimental rabbit out of the hat in which their children relented and found a place where Barkley and Lucy Cooper could live together, but thank whatever gods preside over cinema, he didn't. I knew, before my reading confirmed it, that Yasujiro Ozu must have seen Make Way for Tomorrow -- or as seems to have happened, his scenarist Kogo Noda did. This is one Hollywood picture from the '30s and '40s that has its head on straight, keeping its heart in the right place. The film gives us complex, fallible characters instead of sugary and vinegary stereotypes: The elder Coopers are as much to blame for the predicament in which they find themselves as their children are for not finding a satisfactory way to resolve it. As an aged parent, one who once faced the problem of an aged parent, I find the film's willingness not to lay blame on anyone refreshing: Barkley Cooper should not have allowed himself to get in the financial difficulty in which he finds himself; he and Lucy should have come clean to the offspring about their money difficulties long before they did. And though it's easy to see the children as hard-hearted and selfish -- the film does tilt a little more in that direction than it might -- what we see on the screen makes clear that housing Lucy and Barkley is a little harder than it ought to be. She seems oblivious to the burdens she puts on George and Anita, and he is a cantankerous handful for Cora and Bill, refusing to follow the doctor's instructions. McCarey and his wonderful cast handle all of this superbly, with McCarey not only stubbornly refusing to provide a conventional movie ending, but also withholding some information a lesser director would have made much of, such as what Rhoda did when she disappeared that night, or what Barkley said to his daughter on the telephone when he informed her that he and Lucy weren't coming to their farewell dinner. (I think it's better that we don't know what he told her to do with that roast she was planning to serve.) A small, surprising treat of a movie.

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