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Tuesday Foreign Region Blu-ray Disc Report: “Make Way For Tomorrow” (Leo McCarey, 1937)


Given my oft-cantankerous and frequently, in the word of one editor, "pugilistic" rhetorical manner, it may surprise some to learn that I am married to an exceptionally tender-hearted woman. And while it would hardly be fair, or, for that matter, accurate, to describe her as squeamish to the point where it might squelch her aesthetic adventurousness or curiosity, it is an indisputable fact that she can be fairly vigilant about shielding herself from certain depictions that she's learned through experience are likely to upset her. She has a particular horror of works wherein old folks are made to suffer. For instance, just the other morning, I had this idea I'd like to listen to The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band. Yes, because I'm an old hippie. In any event, as I prepared the disc for auditing, I remembered something, and went to the other side of the apartment to consult with the missus.

"You prefer not to hear the song 'She's Leaving Home,' correct?"

She looked up from her desk and winced slightly. Even though the song ends with the titular heroine meeting a man from the motor trade, the trauma experienced by Mom and Dad in that tune doesn't sit well with her. "Yes, I really would prefer never to hear it again, thanks."

"'Cause I was thinking of listening to Sgt. Pepper, and, you know...flow. Context. I'll put on something else..."

"You could just skip over it, couldn't you? There, you did it! You did that eye-roll thing! You look just like your sister when you do that!"

("You look just like your sister when you do that." You have no idea how happy those words make me. Yeesh.)

So I put the record on and yes, did skip over "She's Leaving Home." It's not as if the thing's my own favorite song on the record anyway. But still. Flow. Context.

In any event, I tell this story so as to explain why I am obliged to watch Make Way For Tomorrow the way other married men watch porn.

Seriously. When, in 2008, I acquired a French DVD of Leo McCarey's incredible 1937 film, about an old couple forced to separate because of circumstance and the indifference, callousness, and just-plain-inability-to-empathize-or-even-coherently-function of their children, the issue wasn't particularly pressing. The thing had burned-in subtitles, an annoyance, possibly, for the non-reviewing viewer (and eyes, I was aware of the computer wizardry one could do to unburn said subtitles, but wasn't going to go through with it), so remained a "specialty item." I wrote it up at my Some Came Running blog, in one of the last Foreign Region DVD Reports to appear there, and concluded my review with "This movie still awaits its definitive video version. In the meantime, this [...] will do." Then, in February of this year, a new, and much improved, version of the picture came out courtesy of the Criterion Collection. (Which release also spurred some reflections from Dan Kasman here at the Notebook.)I sprung the news to my wife with some enthusisasm. She reacted with less enthusiasm than she would have had I suggested she accompany me to a marathon screening of Lucio Fulci pictures. She sounded a little like Woody Allen in Bananas explaining why he can't suck out the poison from a snake bite.

"I can't...I won't...I just can't handle a movie where old people have such awful things happen to them." This pronouncement was made with a tonal, shall we say, definitiveness that brooked no argument. So by the time I received the Eureka!/Masters of Cinema Blu-ray disc edition of Tomorrow, released in the fall of this year, I had a pretty good idea that "You ought to be able to handle it now, what with it being in 1080p resolution and all" would not make a particularly persuasive selling point. So, once again, thwarted. Without even trying.

More than any other Eureka!/MOC Blu-ray upgrade I've yet encountered, the one for Tomorrow bears the strongest particular resemblance to a previous disc version, that is the Criterion from earlier this year. It reproduces the two major video extras from the Criterion: video interviews with filmmaker/historian Peter Bogdanovich, who knew McCarey a bit, and critic Gary Giddins. Both men bring fresh insights on the film and only occasionally overlap with respect to information. (Although the Giddins piece contains a sort of funny production gaffe, presenting a still showing Gene Kelly and Leo G. Carroll as priests as a shot from Going My Way...which it is, only it's from the television series of that name, not the original McCarey film starring Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald.) The Blu-ray does not reprint the textual materials from the Criterion, excellent pieces all from Tag Gallagher, Bertrand Tavernier, and Robin Wood; instead, there's a splendid essay by Geoffrey O'Brien and an excerpt from the Josephine Lawrence novel the film is finally only nominally based on (I actually sought out and read the entire thing, such is my devotion to the film). So what you've got as the biggest selling point is the improved picture resolution. The DVD Beaver review of the disc has some useful screen-cap comparisons that convey the differences, but not as well than actually viewing the film would; because, frankly, the contrasts are so subtle that they're best appreciated within the relative seamlessness of the film-viewing experience rather than stills. Nevertheless, I thought I'd make my own effort and take some snapshots with my Olympus camera off of my plasma display, to show due diligence and all that. I picked the scene in which granddaughter Rhoda (Barbara Read) grills my celebrity freebie Kitty McHugh (Frank's sister, as I've breathlessly noted before) about a movie she's ducking out on. The standard def snapshot is directly below.

And now, below, a snap from the Blu-ray:

What we've got with the high-def version: Similar grain structure, for sure. Not a smooth-as-silk via digital noise reduction image, thank God and of course, given the standards of both manufacturers. The Blu-ray shows a little more brightness in McHugh's blouse. The advantage in detail comes across strongest in the fur collar of Read's coat. And so it goes throughout the picture. There's not so much a "wow! look at that" factor as an overall enhancement that benefits the gestalt of the experience if you will. Worth it? I think so, but I've long been on the record as a Blu-ray-because-we-can person.

The other reason I chose this disc is because I thought if I rewatched the extras while my wife was baking Christmas cookies in the next room (which is the kitchen, in case you were wondering, because she doesn't bake cookies anywhere else in the house, so don't worry), and she heard all the wonderful things that Bogdanovich and Giddins said about the film, it might soften her up a bit. I think it might have. But right now I'm not stupid enough to ask the question directly. I'll keep you posted if you're interested.

DVD Beaver has full-rez screen captures: And dammit if even seeing still images from that film doesn’t make me want to weep like a child.
Great piece Glenn. I’ve never seen the film but now very intrigued…
Watched it last New Year’s Eve. Not sure it was a good choice to see 2010 in in floods of helpless tears (both of us) but I have a feeling we might just see 2011 in the same way (with Mommie Dearest lined up to balance it out immediately afterwards).

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