You Can't Take It With You, Frank Capra's 1938 populist spin on the George S Kaufman and Moss Hart play about a family of happy eccentrics, is a great deal of fun, though it significantly rewrites the original work and doesn't represent Capra (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) at his best. Jean Arthur plays a member of the blissful Vanderhof househ old who falls in love with a rich man's son (James Stewart) and brings him into her nutty home. Lionel Barrymore, who played such a bad guy eight years later in Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, is the wonderful... Grandpa Vanderhof, who addresses God during the dinner prayer as "sir" and speaks plainly and beautifully of why it's good to be alive. Capra took this opportunity to rail against big business and champion the common man, but the overall tone of the film--typical for the director's comedies--is buoyant and snappy. --Tom Keogh, Amazon.com [show more]
In the pantheon of great directors, a certain few would come to dominate the decade in which their finest work was released. In the seventies, it was Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorcese; the fifties had a triumvirate composed of Akira Kurosawa, Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock. But one director dominated a decade like none other before or since; Frank Capra in the thirties. Starting with It Happened One Night in 1934, Capra released a string of subsequent masterpieces which not only found financial and critical success with the theater going public, but also garnered the accolades accorded to films of such quality. No director has ever matched Capra in regards to Academy Awards given to so many films in such a short span of time. It Happened One Night received statues for Best Actor, Actress, Writing, Director and Picture, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town from 1936, won Capra another Best Director Oscar. 1937's Lost Horizon took home Oscars for Best Art Direction and Film Editing. Once again, the following year, he was rewarded for the film I'm reviewing here; You Can't Take It with You with honors for both Best Director and Picture. That's three Best Director awards in just five years, a feat that has never been even remotely challenged in the eighty plus years of Oscar history. Oh, and to top it off, his next film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington would win for Best Writing in 1939, a feat that defies description when you think of the plethora of outstanding films that were released in Hollywood's greatest year.
Mired in the Great Depression, movie fans were looking to Hollywood for the escapist, optimistic and good natured kind of films that would help them to forget their personal woes. And nothing fit that bill greater than You Can't Take It with You. Based upon a very successful Broadway play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, the film introduces us to what appears to be a very odd and eccentric group of individuals; the Vanderhof clan. Their home, located in Manhattan, is a sort of sanctuary in the middle of the money mad metropolis, where the inhabitants are free to pursue what ever personal dreams they desire. As the world around them frets upon finding financial fortune, they live by the most simple of means. The patriarch of this family is Grandpa (Lionel Barrymore), a septuagenarian who we learn during the course of the film, was a stock broker in his youth, but who turned his back on this most pressure laden profession when he realized that life was passing him by. He holds court, so to speak, over an array of amateur artisans whom he has also instilled in, a desire for individualism. His daughter Penny (Spring Byington) is a writer of mystery novels and also paints. Her husband Paul (Samuel S. Hinds) makes fireworks in the basement with Mr. DePinna (Halliwell Hobbes), an iceman who made a delivery five years earlier and never left, when he found personal freedom at the Vanderhof house.
Penny and Paul have two daughters; Essie (Anne Miller) wants to be a ballerina, but she's not very talented or coordinated. Her true talent is baking sweets, be it candy or cookies. She is married to Ed (Dub Taylor), an ex-college football player who plays the xylophone and helps to distribute his wife's delicious delectables on the street. Her sister Alice (Jean Arthur) is probably the sanest appearing character in the film. But because Alice straddles the fence between the Vanderhof haven and the business world; she is the one who will find her life's course in disarray during the film. Alice is the secretary of Tony Kirby (James Stewart), the son of wealthy financial magnate A.P. Kirby (Edward Arnold). A.P. Kirby is a man always on the move, and that movement is always up. Up to the top of the financial world, up to the precipice of political power and up as a leader of community cultural caretaking. He's attained this prominent powerful position by being ruthless and aggressive in his actions. And anyone who stands in his way is either destroyed or left quivering in his wake.
The Kirbys move amongst the finest families in New York society and to uphold their prominent stature, they desire their son to marry a girl who also has their proper societal standing. But Tony loves Alice, and when the two polar opposite families come into contact; a maelstrom of madcap misadventures ensues. It is through this juxtaposition of two divergent personal philosophies that the message of the film rings loud and clear. A. P. Kirby's pursuit of all that power comes with a hefty price tag; he is dyspeptic, has no close friends and is surrounded by yes men who only feed upon A. P.'s table scraps, in hopes of riding his wave of success. Tony wants to marry Alice, but Alice is hesitant. She knows that she and her family don't move in the same circles as his family. And to that end, she wants to make sure that Tony's family will accept not only her, but her family too. They decide to invite Tony's parents to dinner at the Vanderhof home so that the two families can get acquainted. But Tony knows that with a set day and time, the Vanderhofs will probably be reserved and restrained in their personal eccentricities in hopes of putting on a favorable front for his parents. He decides to throw a monkey wrench into the mix by arriving a day earlier, when they are not expected, hoping to show his parents the true nature of Alice's family. But the plan backfires literally when the stodgy Mrs. Kirby (Mary Forbes) is aghast at what appears to be the insane level of absurdity permeating the home and A.P. is body slammed to the floor by Essie's Russian dance instructor Kolenkhov (Mischa Auer). As they are about to remove themselves from what they deem is a nuthouse, all Hell breaks loose when the hoard of fireworks in the cellar are set off by an unguarded flame. As the rockets and firecrackers erupt through the neighborhood, the police arrive and arrest everyone in the house.
While awaiting their appearance before a judge in night court, it is revealed to both Grandpa and A. P., that Grandpa is the lone holdout of a real estate grab by Kirby to purchase all the homes in the Vanderhof's neighborhood. By securing this neighborhood, Kirby will destroy his main competitor in the armaments industry and corner the market in military contracts. When Kirby accuses Grandpa of using Alice to woo Tony in the hopes of getting a higher price for his home, Grandpa unleashes a torrent of verbal abuse in his direction. His words cut deep into the fabric of Kirby's façade and sets a seed of disillusion in A. P.'s mind. That seed will sprout into a mighty tree of humility when both families appear before the judge in the following scene. On one side are the Kirbys with their amalgam of attorneys who quickly get their patron's verdict set aside when Grandpa, for Alice's sake, admits that Kirby was only at his home to discuss the possible sale of his home. On the other side are the Vanderhof clan, who are represented by Grandpa, but are supported by a crammed courtroom gallery of neighborhood friends. When the judge imparts a hefty fine to Grandpa for making fireworks without a license, Kirby offers to pay the penalty for him. But in a groundswell of fraternal support, the friends in the gallery consternate Kirby for his grandiose gesture and they pass a hat around to collect the fine. Realizing that Grandpa's personal philosophy has a reward which cannot be factored in financial terms, A. P. has an epiphany. A man is wealthier when his fortune is flushed with friends as opposed to an isolated and lonely mountain of monetary wealth.
I've read many reviews of this film over the years and the gist of many of those readings has pigeonholed this film as an antiquated and anachronistic offering, that didn't deserve its Best Picture award. Oh how wrong all those people are! From beginning to end, Capra has taken a brilliant philosophical play and forged a mighty film that unequivocally extols all the virtues that make a human being's life so important. Its message transcends time as every bit of wisdom imparted throughout the course of the film, could be transported directly to the modern day woes of a beleaguered society that is drowning in its depressed financial situation. Sure, it's a film that appears naïve and overly optimistic, but if you can see your way through what appears to be a sea of syrupy sentimentalism, you'll be rewarded with a film that makes you feel good in the end. And that is what films and filmmaking should always be about; a hopeful and escapist form of storytelling. Give this outstanding film a chance; you'll can only better yourself personally if its message sets it seed in your mind too.
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Please note this is a region 2 DVD and will require a region 2 (Europe) or region Free DVD Player in order to play. A man from a family of rich snobs becomes engaged to a woman from a good-natured but decidedly eccentric family.
Frank Capra directs this classic drama based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore) is an eccentric who retired from the rat race thirty years ago and now uses his fortune to encourage his family and friends to pursue their interests. While Vanderhof spends his time painting, other family members make fireworks, party masks and practice ballet. The only comparatively normal relative is Alice (Jean Arthur), Vanderhof's granddaughter, who works as a receptionist for businessman Anthony P. Kirby (Edward Arnold). Alice is in love with Kirby's son, Stewart (James Stewart), but matters are complicated when it transpires that Kirby wishes to purchase and demolish Vanderhof's mansion in order to build on the land.