You Can’t Take It With You (1938)


  • directed by Frank Capra
  • starring James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, Edward Arnold
  • a man from a family of rich snobs becomes engaged to a woman from a good-natured but decidedly eccentric family.

“Maybe it’ll stop you trying to be so desperate about making more money than you can ever use? You can’t take it with you, Mr. Kirby. So what good is it? As near as I can see, the only thing you can take with you is the love of your friends.”

Let’s kick things off with the 1938 winner for Best Picture. Having some experience with Frank Capra’s work, it’s easy to see that the guy paints with a very broad brush. Good vs. evil, rich vs. poor, and nobility vs. greed are just some of the universal themes that I’ve seen him deal with in a light and fanciful manner. Here, it’s no different.

Based on a play that won the Pulitzer a year prior, Capra’s film follows lovebirds Tony Kirby and Alice Sycamore, who attempt to navigate the early stages of their relationship throughout the contentious first meetings of their polar opposite families. What we know of Kirby’s father basically boils down to ‘hot-shot banker, boardrooms, no time for pleasure, nose firmly on grindstone, money money.’ Alice’s household, however, could not be more different. Her Grandpa Vanderhof presides over a cast of characters that resembles something of a hippie commune. Among them are a playwright, a fireworks manufacturer, an amateur ballerina, her russian dance instructor, a mechanical animal inventor, and anybody else that is creative and needs a home. Most of them are family, and some are just good-natured acquaintances. Forget income taxes and bureaucracy, all Grandpa Vanderhof wants are his friends, his family, and his community of like-minded individuals. From here, you can guess what happens when the families finally mesh. Let’s just say it involves the title of the movie, which I thought was fairly stupid before I hit play. Wait, you can’t take what with you? To where? Huh? But when the words are uttered in the film, and as you start to understand what Vanderhof means by it, you realize it’s a nice way of seeing things. With such proximity to the Great Depression, I can see this resonating with a population that was still picking up the pieces and taking inventory.

I really enjoyed Lionel’s Barrymore’s portrayal of Vanderhof. Reading about the movie, I learned that soon before the production began, he lost the use of his legs to severe arthritis. The use of crutches had to be written into his character. Similarly, Ann Miller, who played budding ballerina Essie, was in such excruciating pain throughout much of her ballet work on screen that she would erode into hysterics once the cameras stopped rolling. These tidbits add to my enjoyment for some reason. In terms of the other members of the supporting cast, Edward Arnold played the tight-ass patriarch with aplomb and his getting bodyslammed by Kolenkhov was an easy highlight. I’d say I enjoyed the jail scene, which I did, but it’s so ridiculous that they all ended up there together that I’ll just gloss over that.

Other than that, it was great to see the first teaming up of Stewart, Arthur, and Capra. I’ve always had a soft spot for Jean Arthur since I grew up watching Mr. Smith Goes To Washington so many times, and I can say the same for Stewart and Capra. It’s hokey stuff and ultra obvious most of the time. You know where it’s going and exactly how it’s going to get there at all times basically. Somehow that doesn’t ruin a thing.


About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

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