Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

A '30s rarity . . . . I can see why

MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW. Some ‘30s films are timeless classics that never date (Leo McCarey’s 1937 THE AWFUL TRUTH) while others, like this other McCarey film of the same year make the 1930s seem a very dated, remote place indeed, which seems just too far away from us now. I am afraid this tale of an old couple [Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore] who lose their home to the bank during the depression and have to separate for a time to stay with their children (who cannot take both of them) just did not involve or move me as much as I imagined it would. In a way one can almost understand the children’s point of view. Beulah Bondi's old fashioned ways are annoying to son Thomas Mitchell’s family – she disrupts the bridge class and she herself feels out of place and confused, having lived with her husband for 50 years. So how come they lose their home – has he been careless with money? And if Thomas Mitchell and Fay Bainter need extra income from the bridge classes how come they can afford to have a black maid? – well I suppose every family had one back then …

Modern audiences can hardly identify with Bondi when she says to the grand-daughter that people of 70 have no interest in parties or dancing any more. Bondi herself was 45 at the time but presumably back then playing 70 meant making her look ancient. There is a nice conclusion though as the reunited couple get 5 hours together (at the hotel where they spent their honeymoon 50 years earlier) before they have to part forever – she knows it but he doesn’t. Then she sees him off on the train to California (as though its only a few stops down the line) while she shuffles off into a retirement home – finally there is real pathos here. Mitchell as the only child to feel any guilt and Bainter (nicely unsympathetic) are of course excellent. It is only the car salesman and the hotel manager who treat them with respect and are kind to them....

But it for me is not as moving as Ozu or De Sica – I weep at TOKYO STORY or UMBERTO D or AU HASARD BALTHASAR or THE WORLD OF APU, as to me they are on the realistic level, and we cry at IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE '46, perhaps the best of all sentimental films [where, incidentally, Beulah Bondi plays the mother of hero George Bailey (Stewart)], but I find something glutinously sentimental about this McCarey film - that sequence where she disrupts the bridge class is just toe-curlingly gruesome comedy of embarassment; so as a depression-era tragedy it just does not work for me – and the obvious back-projections didn’t help. There is just something mawkish and grimly funny seeing Bondi shuffling around playing "old" and being irritating without realising it - its a very old- fashioned view of old people and looks so fake. She does score though in the scene where she pre-empts the son with her decision to go to the retirement home, but insists her husband must not know. So, a neglected masterpiece or a savage black comedy about an insufferably nice old couple who understandably bring out the worst in their callous children ?

No comments:

Post a Comment