1930s Oldies

The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)

The Barretts of Wimpole Street is a weak Best Picture nominee from the 1930s. It lacks any strong spark to bring it out of the dull territory it inhabits for 109 minutes. The film takes place primarily in one room with almost all of the action occurring inside the Barretts’ home. These interior scenes have uninspired staging and are boringly shot. Even if you didn’t know The Barretts of Wimpole Street was based on a play, you can figure it out pretty easily since director Sidney Franklin didn’t hide it very well. It often feels like a recording of a stage play rather than a film itself.

You can add The Barretts of Wimpole Street to the melodrama subgenre, “films with weird and controlling fathers who have uncomfortable relationships with their daughters.” Charles Laughton plays the annoying father to Norma Shearer’s Elizabeth Barrett. He has a very creepy relationship with his daughters and kisses his adult niece on the lips. Based on Edward’s (Laughton) relationship with Elizabeth, one could say it’s a case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. He repeatedly tells his daughter that she’s sick and therefore cannot leave her house or bed. At one point in the film, Elizabeth manages to go down the stairs, but then is unable to go up them after Edward repeatedly tells her she won’t be able to. I believe that Elizabeth may have actually been sick at one point before the movie takes place but was “sick” for a long time afterwards because she believed she was, due to her father.

Norma Shearer is one of the very few good aspects of The Barretts of Wimpole Street. In addition to what I said before, the film is fairly predictable. Many scenes set up each other so you know what’s going to happen in the following scene. The film’s plot is minimal, with its only conflict being that Edward won’t let Elizabeth do anything. The majority of the film is essentially Elizabeth talking to people and Edward bursting in to scold her and the people trying to make her life less unbearable. There are better movies out there with similar stories that are more worth your time.

1930s Oldies

Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)

I went into this film really wanting to like it, I promise. I had heard great things, saw it on a few prestigious lists, and knew I had to watch it at some point. I recorded it a year or so ago on TCM and didn’t end up watching it until this year. I had heard it was depressing and I wanted to make sure I was in the right headspace before I dove in.

I know that Make Way for Tomorrow has its fans and those fans are very passionate about it, so I apologize. I just couldn’t get into it.

For me, Make Way for Tomorrow functions as a 91 minute ABC Afterschool Special. “Be nice to your old parents or you’re going to hell” is what I gathered from it. There’s this feeling I got while watching that the filmmakers are looking down on you, trying to make you feel guilty and the writers wanting to be as depressing as possible. It felt like the writers cared more about forcing you to feel sad rather than tell a story that does make you feel sad. For them, the emotion comes first, then the story, which I think creates a film that feels disingenuous. Putting it simply, its agenda is too strong and obnoxious. Beginning the film with the title cards that end in “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother” results in Make Way for Tomorrow painting itself as a domineering hall monitor, demanding everyone’s utmost respect right away without earning it first.

The characters drove me crazy. Lucy and Barkley’s kids, except George, are the worst children anyone could ask for because of course they are. Thomas Mitchell’s character George is the only child given any point-of-view and empathy. You can tell that he loves his parents and wants to care for them, but is stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one side you have his mother and the other side you have his wife and daughter. He wants to make both sides happy, but is learning that it won’t be possible because no one is compromising.

Besides George, Lucy and Barkley’s other kids couldn’t care less what happens to them after losing their house. No one will take them in besides George and Cora, and even though Cora takes Barkley in, she treats him horribly. The children of Lucy and Barkley are so terrible and one-dimensional (besides George) that it is almost comical. With them being horrible human beings and Lucy being unrealistically naive, I had a hard time connecting with anyone besides George and Barkley.

By the time Lucy and Barkley’s sweeter-than-candy walk down memory lane occurs I was already too annoyed with this movie. This section of the movie does redeem it slightly, with good chemistry between Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi, but not enough to make up for the first half.