Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Make Way For Tomorrow (1937)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Make Way For Tomorrow (1937)

In Leo McCarey's melodramatic, moving family story about the social issue of aging and its harsh reality; it was based on Josephine Lawrence's 1934 novel The Years Are So Long; it has the reputation of being one of the saddest and most poignant, tearjerking and sentimental films ever made (similar to Ozu's Tokyo Story (1953, Jp.)), especially since it was made during the wearying last years of the long drawn-out Depression:

  • the ending statement in the opening credits: "Life flies past us so swiftly that few of us pause to consider those who have lost the tempo of today. Their laughter and their tears we do not even understand for there is no magic that will draw together in perfect understanding the aged and the young. There is a canyon between us, and the painful gap is only bridged by the ancient words of a very wise man --- HONOR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER"
  • the scene in 1936 of the financially-distraught, devoted elderly couple: Barkley (or "Bark") "Pa" Cooper (Victor Moore) and Lucy "Ma" (Breckenridge) Cooper (Beulah Bondi) - married for 50 years, who announced to family members during a family reunion that they had lost their foreclosed house to the bank when they could not make the mortgage payments after he stopped working four years earlier ("and with everything going out and nothing coming in, I couldn't keep up the payments") - and the surprise disclosure that the six months of leeway given by the bank was about to expire
  • the assistance from their five grown-up children for housing or support provided only a difficult and temporary solution -- "Ma" would move to live in the cramped NYC apartment home of eldest son George Cooper's (Thomas Mitchell) family with his wife Anita (Fay Bainter), to share a bedroom with bratty daughter Rhoda (Barbara Read), while "Pa" would be 360 miles away at the home of mean-spirited daughter Cora Payne (Elisabeth Risdon) and her unemployed husband Bill (Ralph Remley)
  • two scenes represented the compromised difficulties of their separation - (1) a loud phone call between "Ma" with "Pa" in George and Anita’s living room where Anita was teaching a bridge class of eavesdropping card players, and (2) the partial reading-aloud of a very personal letter from "Ma" to "Pa" by his friend - an affable Jewish drugstore shopkeeper Max Rubens (Maurice Moscovitch), who awkwardly paused on the sentence: "...and this is just between us two"; the letter described how "Ma" had been taken to a "dreary and dismal" old folks home to hint that she should move there; the letter ended with the sad statement: "Oh Bark, dear. If only something would turn up so that we could be together. I love you so that..." - it was so touching that Max couldn't finish reading the entire letter
  • due to the disruptions, intrusions and lack of space in New York, in a tremendously well-acted scene, "Ma" spoke to Anita and apologized for all the problems they'd had, and soon after, she told son George that she had decided on her own (even though it had been intimated to her) to move to a female retirement-nursing home, the Idylwild Home for Aged Women in Juniper, NY: ("I don't want to hurt your feelings but I haven't been too happy here. It's lonesome in this apartment with everybody gone all day. Would you mind terribly if I decided to leave you, to go to the Idylwild Home? Well, it's a fine place. I'd meet friends my own age...Once I thought that your father and I might get together again but I see that it will never turn out that way. So I want to go to the home. Well, I'm glad that's over. I hated to tell you as much as you would have hated to tell me anything like that"); meanwhile, she would keep it a secret until "Pa" could travel to the warmer climate of California for health reasons, to live with unseen daughter Addie: ("He must never know that I'm going...This is one thing that has to be handled my way. Just let him go on thinking that I'm living with you and Anita. You can always forward my letters. It'll be the first secret I've ever had from him"); she also tenderly told George another "little secret": "Just between us two, you're always my favorite child"
  • the final day that "Pa" and "Ma" enjoyed together in the company of strangers, and their dinner at the Hotel Vogard where they had honeymooned 50 years earlier, instead of attending a farewell dinner with their children; they had drinks: ("Two cocktails...Two old-fashioneds for two old-fashioned people"), became tipsy and tried fun tongue-twisters ("Betty Botter bought a batch of bitter butter" and "Betty Botter bought a batch of baby buggy rubber bumpers"), reminisced about their courtship and the week of their wedding, and flirted and danced a slow waltz with each other (after the band leader noticed them and changed the tune to "Let Me Call You Sweetheart"); at 9 pm, they took a taxi to the train station, and "Pa" sweetly sang the dance song to "Ma" during the ride - she joined in at the end: "Let me call you sweetheart I'm in love with you Let me hear you whisper That you love me too...Keep the love light glowing In your eyes so blue Let me call you sweetheart I'm in love With you"
  • the sad and downbeat ending scene of their heartbreaking farewell to each other at a NY train station (the same one where they started their honeymoon years earlier), and the few simple pleasantries exchanged during most probably their last moments together outside the train car, as they reaffirmed their love:
    - Lucy: Well, give Addie my love, and tell her to take good care of you.
    - Pa: Well, you'll very likely see her soon yourself. I'll get a job out there, and I'll send for you right away.
    - Lucy: I don't doubt that, Bark. You'll get a job. Of course you will.
    - Conductor: All aboard.
    - Pa: They didn't give us much time, did they? Goodbye, Lucy dear. (They kissed)
    - Lucy: Goodbye, darling.
    - Pa: In case I don't see you again...
    - Lucy: What?
    - Pa: Well, anything might happen. The train could jump off the track. If it should happen that I don't see you again, it's been very nice knowing you, Miss Breckenridge.
    - Lucy: Bark, that's probably the prettiest speech you ever made. And in case I don't see you a - well, for a little while. I just want to tell you, it's been lovely, every bit of it, the whole fifty years. I'd sooner been your wife, Bark, than anyone else on Earth.
    - Pa: Oh, thank you, Lucy.
    - Conductor: All aboard.
    - Lucy: Get going, Pa.
"Ma's" Farewell as "Pa's" Train Departed
  • the departure of "Pa's" train, as "Ma" blew kisses to him through the train window, and then watched in dismay as the train pulled away, before the final fade-out (enhanced again by the tune 'Let Me Call You Sweetheart')

"Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother"

"Pa" and "Ma" Cooper's House About to be Foreclosed - With Eviction

Loud Phone Call From Lucy to Bark During Bridge Game

Max Reading Lucy's Personal Letter to "Pa"

Distraught Lucy ("Ma") Telling George That She Had Decided to Move to Nursing Home

To George: "You're always my favorite child"

Final Day at the Hotel Vogard - 50 Years After Marriage

Taxi to Train Station


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