Elderly couple Bark (Victor Moore) and Lucy (Beulah Bondi) have hit hard times and the bank is foreclosing on their home. Ashamed of their situation and with Bark striving to find a job to solve their predicament they have concealed this fact from their children until the eleventh hour. Bark and Lucy finally break the news to their children and the decision is made that the couple should move in with their children. In order to do so they will need to ‘temporarily’ live apart, Lucy with their son and Bark with their daughter. Separated by a large distance the couple are reunited for only a few hours in the stunning final act of the film and they endeavour to make the most of it.

The final act is incredible but the first hour does also have some remarkable scenes. Lucy’s telephone conversation with Bark for instance is beautifully shot and the bridge game that is disturbed in the background only adds to the impact of the scene. The interactions between Bark and the Jewish shopkeeper Max (Maurice Moscovitch) are also particularly noteworthy too for the naturalistic dialogue and aching pathos conveyed through many things that are left unsaid. McCarey is also not afraid of confronting the racial stereotyping present at the time with both the character of Max and also Cora’s housemaid. This is delicately handled and never preachy but there is a definite sense that the treatment of these characters is a complex issue that should not be ignored.

Watching Make Way For Tomorrow for the first time I was struck by how good it was, but also not great as I had heard. These early scenes were exceptional in places and the performances uniformally solid but I was couldn’t perhaps see the overwhelming greatness that had been promised by so many glowing reviews. Then Bark and Lucy were reunited in New York for the film’s final section and it became obvious why this film is considered so highly. These sequences are some of the most beautiful character based melodrama and emotionally affecting sequences committed to film and the ending is emotionally devastating. As Orson Welles famously commented about Make Way For Tomorrow, “Oh my God that’s the saddest movie ever made…It would make a stone cry”. The film up until the final third is very good but the final act elevates the film to genuine greatness.

The impact of these last scenes is due in part to a wonderful script filled with natural dialogue and superbly measured direction by McCarey but their effectiveness is also largely due to the stunning performances from Moore and Bondi. Leo McCarey is perhaps most famous for the pairing of Laurel and Hardy but the phenomenal pairing of Moore and Bondi should be high in his list of achievements. Also incredibly Bondi was only 49 when she played Lucy and Moore only 61 but they’re utterly convincing as the much older characters. The chemistry between the two is also remarkable and it is not hard for one to believe that the pair have shared fifty years together.

Something of box office failure at the time of release, depression era audiences didn’t quickly flock to “the saddest movie ever made”, the film is perhaps not as widely known as it should be but the recent release by The Criterion Collection (exclusively on DVD) in America and Masters of Cinema (exclusively on Blu-ray) in the UK have helped raise its profile.

The Masters of Cinema Blu-ray provides a wonderful opportunity to watch the film in a high quality 1080p 1.37:1 presentation and represents the best way to view this film, outside of a cinema. Although slightly lighter and softer than the Criterion image the Masters of Cinema Blu-ray has excellent picture quality throughout with surprisingly few signs of damage. Extras are few (ported from the Criterion DVD) and I would have really appreciated a feature length commentary but the Blu-ray is still an essential purchase.

Both the Criterion and Masters of Cinema discs are locked for their respective regions.

Make Way For Tomorrow is available to buy now.