Beulah's Finest Hour
Though I've never known him as an auteur, I have known the key works of Leo McCarey for years -- Going My Way, Duck Soup, The Awful Truth to name a few. Until this weekend I had never known about what he and many of his champions consider to be his masterwork that is all but forgotten.
Make Way for Tomorrow is credited for being the inspiration of Ozu's masterwork, Tokyo Story. The plots and conclusions of the two films are decidedly different, but the overall impact in both is overwhelming. Starring character actors Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi, it is likely the high point of both of their careers. The final, silent seconds of Bondi at the train station are the most devastating and transcendent I've ever seen in any film. She was in her late 40s at the time and would continue to act for another four decades, winning an Emmy in 1977.
How she captures the emotions of a woman saying goodbye to the man she has loved for 50 years and with whom she must part due to economic realities is not something ever seen in American cinema. It could be dismissed as too depressing, but she does it with such grace that she raises sentimental film to high art.
It dares to be not just sentimental but even more daringly has a very downbeat ending. Such a movie coming out of Hollywood to day would be remarkable, but that it came out in 1937 from a major studio is staggering. Maybe it's cheating to share the final moments, and it's worth checking out the full Criterion reissue that came out last month