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How Make Way For Tomorrow earns its reputation as one of the saddest movies ever

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: This Is 40 and Amour have us thinking about getting older.

Make Way For Tomorrow
Leo McCarey’s 1937 melodrama Make Way For Tomorrow has a reputation as one of the saddest movies ever made, sweeping the audience swiftly and smoothly toward a devastating finish. Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi play an aged couple who lose their house in the Depression and are forced to move in with their grown children. Because of space, money, and lifestyle issues, Moore and Bondi are split up, with him moving out to the country (where he promptly takes ill) and her heading to the city, where she meddles in the relationship between her granddaughter and her daughter-in-law. Like Moore, Bondi has a hard time understanding what this younger generation is up to; for example, in one well-observed sequence, she makes a nuisance of herself at her daughter-in-law’s bridge class, not getting that this is a business engagement, not a social one. 

McCarey tells a lot of the story with sly visual cues, such as when he shows Moore’s kids lugging around a big portrait of him that they can’t find a suitable place to hang. Then as Make Way For Tomorrow works through its bittersweet third act, every memory and casual kindness gets amplified, until the movie becomes almost unbearably poignant. The sentiment reaches its apex when Moore and Bondi meet in New York City for a day, and share one last dance in the hotel where they once honeymooned. As they leave the floor, the bandleader mouths a goodbye to them, plainly understanding that “tomorrow” for these two is waiting right outside the door, and it won’t be kind. —Noel Murray

Availability: Make Way For Tomorrow is available on DVD from Criterion.