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Tag Archives: Beulah Bondi

Checking Out Criterion

I guess it’s not a good time to be Netflix. The company’s recent DVD/streaming fracas has us scrambling for alternative ways to get entertainment. I’m still sticking with them (and, despite the price increase, it’s still a heckuva deal), both with disc and streaming. Currently we have the two discs/unlimited streaming, but the constant flow of discs from DVD Talk will probably prompt me to take it down to one disc at a time with the occasional Red Box visit in case we need a recent flick for the night. Another alternate possibility I’ve been exploring is our local public library. I was astonished to find that they had tons of newer Criterion discs available for checking out, one week at a time. What’s more, the library Criterions have the booklets — cool! A few weeks ago, I checked out a batch:

The first film we partook of, Make Way for Tomorrow, is something I’ve been wanting to see for several years. Leo McCarey’s highly regarded tearjerker used to get some airplay on American Movie Classics, but despite being a huge Beulah Bondi fan I never caught it. The film just looked too depressing — who wants to cuddle up with a movie about an elderly couple whose children treat them like dirt? The film really is a treasure, however, touching on human issues in a manner that’s very rare for films of that vintage (1937). Bondi and Victor Moore play a long-married couple who gather their adult children to announce that they must sell the family home. The financial situation makes it impossible for the couple to stay together, so they wind up in the households of two different offspring while being treated in an equally callous way. Moore is great; so are Thomas Mitchell and Fay Bainter as the couple who take Bondi in. Bondi is remarkable — her character behaves at first in a stereotypical “martyred old lady” fashion that would grate on anyone’s nerves — but as the film unfolds, her humanity is gradually revealed. It’s a relief when the couple is reunited and finally get treated with some dignity when they visit the hotel where they once honeymooned. This Criterion edition particularly jazzed me because it has designs by Seth, the cartoonist who also designed the Complete Peanuts volumes from Fantagraphics.

The next DVD we saw, oddly enough, has a similar theme to Make Way for Tomorrow — Hirokazu Koreeda’s 2008 drama Still Walking. This film has an elderly couple dealing with the after effects when one of their children has died. It takes place mostly during the annual gathering the couple holds in remembrance of their son. The couple’s other offspring seem to live happy lives, but as the film unfolds one starts to notice the tension between the parents and the other son, who didn’t follow the dad’s career path and is now involved with a widow raising a young boy. The daughter is also grappling with how to handle the aging parents. Like Koreeda’s Nobody Knows, this film takes its time establishing character and mood to the point where you’d ask “when is this thing starting, already?” Stick around, however, for a rewarding experience. At the very least, I loved the ambiance of the seaside town where it took place. The booklet contains recipes (!) for the delectable Asian dishes prepared in the film.

I’ve already seen My Man Godfrey, but for the commentary I gave the Criterion disc a rental (and why not? The library had, like, ten copies in the bins). The commentary was pretty dry and scholarly, but it had a few nice tidbits about the making of the film. Mostly it made me appreciate what a beautifully put together film it remains, the apex of ’30s screwball. I loved William Powell in this, but a huge surprise came with Gail Patrick as the bitchy sister. What a gorgeous lady. Carole Lombard was also quite funny, but I noticed how she played similar (annoying) characters in this, Twentieth Century and Nothing Sacred. Her “beautiful lady gone wacky” schtick was good, in small doses. I really prefer her in more “normal” parts like Mr. and Mrs. Smith or the nursing drama Vigil in the Night.

It was fun checking these out, and I’m looking forward to trucking down to the library for more. P.S. Don’t ask about going back to cable or satellite — I’m totally finished treading down that money-sucking route!