Make Way for Tomorrow

Criterion Files

The common, received wisdom about Hollywood during The Great Depression tends to go like this: Hollywood played an important role as a place for escape, or a low-cost brief vacation, for a populace struggling to make it day-to-day. Much of Hollywood entertainment no doubt possessed escapist entertainment value, and the importance of Hollywood’s social role in this respect shouldn’t be dismissed. But the assumption that Depression-era Hollywood worked exclusively – or even mostly – as a purely escapist institution with little reflection on the overwhelming social conditions and problems of the time is greatly misinformed. The Depression-era-escapism argument about Hollywood has significant implications. While the industry’s role as an institutionalized dream factory had been well established by the early 1930s, the early years of the Depression were instrumental in the formation of a Classical Hollywood mode because it was during these years that synchronous sound became solidified with other standardized industry conventions. Genres like gangster films and westerns certainly existed during the silent era, but these genres acquired their shared signatures as sound grew into an expected, important part of the cinematic experience, just as the sonic spectacle of the musical or the rat-a-tat dialogue of screwball comedies became essential defining components of their respective genres after the standardization of sound. So, in short, how we conceptualize Hollywood in the 1930s is instrumental to understanding the foundation of Hollywood’s entire history.

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Criterion Files

On March 10, 1938, Leo McCarey accepted his Academy Award for Best Directing and kindly thanked his audience before stating that they gave him an award for “the wrong picture.” McCarey had won for The Awful Truth (1937), the brilliant Cary Grant/Irene Dunne screwball romantic comedy. McCarey was a talented comedy director and no doubt deserved the award (and it’s hard to imagine anybody today winning an Oscar for directing a comedy), but he was equally deserving of the award for directing a more personal and less conventional film that very same year, Make Way For Tomorrow. A film beloved by cinephiles and filmmakers as a sincerely moving emotional experience (Orson Wells reportedly said that Make Way For Tomorrow would make a stone cry), it still remains one of few Hollywood films that concerns itself seriously with the lives of senior citizens. But it also represents the incredible range of an underrated filmmaker, which can be seen most evidently by the fact that he directed a great romantic comedy and a great adult drama in the very same year.

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The Library of Congress opens up its big mystical vault once a year to toss in 25 films that it deems worthy (by stirring old clapboards into a vat of rat blood and reading the star alignment). This year was a big year that honors some of the fallen members of the community – notably Leslie Nielsen, Blake Edwards and Irvin Kershner. Safely stowed away as important cultural documents, The Empire Strikes Back, Airplane!, and The Pink Panther join 23 other films that will be forever kept in the hearts of those who care to apply for a Library of Congress library card (a three-step process that includes a photo being taken). Check the entire list (which is littered with incredible movies) below:

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This week brings us two new releases from Criterion. One is a beautiful period piece featuring some very familiar actors, and the other is a film that most consider forgotten treasure.

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published: 11.21.2014
D
published: 11.21.2014
B+
published: 11.19.2014
C+
published: 11.19.2014
B-, C


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