You Can’t Take It With You, an adaptation of the George S. Kauffman and Moss Hart play, is one of Frank Capra’s best films.
The gist of the film is that Tony Kirby (James Stewart) works at his family’s bank. His father, Anthony P. Kirby (Edward Arnold), is returning from Washington, DC with plans for a government-sanctioned munitions monopoly. Grandpa Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore) is the only person standing in the way of building his factory. Interestingly, he encourages another banker to pursue their dreams. Anyway, Tony is in love with the company’s stenographer, Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur). Her grandfather is none other than the aforementioned Much like Meet the Fockers, this film is what happens when one family meets another and the situation is certainly ripe for comedy. Tony comes from a snobbish rich family so his relationship with Alice, much to his mother’s dread.
Alice has done condition to accept Tony’s marriage proposal. His family has to meet her family. She’s afraid of how their eccentric behavior will be a turnoff for the Kirby family. What they don’t know is that Alice’s family lives in Vanderhof’s house. To ripen the comedy, Tony has his family come a day early. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. That’s just the way it is! It involves fireworks, prison, a runaway, and a happy ending. While the road might not be easy, audiences go on quite the journey!
The film took home Oscar wins for Best Picture and Best Director. It was the third and final directing Oscar during Capra’s filmmaking career. It may have been a different era for the Academy but the win isn’t surprising. After all, the play also won a Pulitzer Prize following its 1936 premiere. It also took home nominations for Supporting Actress (Spring Byington), Writing (Screenplay), Cinematography, Editing, and Sound Recording. But even though it took home Best Picture, it doesn’t quite reach the same level as Capra’s later work…including the next year.
The film is one of three Frank Capra films airing during TCM’s spotlight of Jean Arthur in their Summer Under The Stars series. The other films are Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. One interesting decision in the film is casting Ann Miller as Essie Carmichael. I say this because she was 15 years old at the time. Dub Taylor, who portrays Ed Carmichael in his acting debut, was 16 years older than the actress. While I’m watching the film through the lens of the era, this is not a choice that filmmakers would make today.
Behind the scenes, Joseph Breen had some notes when the Production Code saw the script. It was mainly of the do-not-offend-the-South attitude. Racists gonna racist. That’s certainly one thing that I do not miss from the Code enforcement era of filmmaking.
Nearly 85 years after its theatrical release, You Can’t Take It With You still has laughs to offer but this is a film of its era.
DIRECTOR: Frank Capra
SCREENWRITER: Robert Riskin
CAST: Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, Edward Arnold, Mischa Auer, Ann Miller, Spring Byington, Samuel S. Hinds, Donald Meek, H.B. Warner
Columbia released You Can’t Take It With You on September 29, 1938. Grade: 4/5
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