You Can’t Take It with You (1938)

You Can't Take It with You (1938) movie poster

director Frank Capra
viewed: 04/30/2016

You Can’t Take It with You is by no means a perfect movie, but it is damned entertaining and a lot of fun.  It comes from Frank Capra’s most successful run, weaving stories of hope and humanity for the common American against the backdrop of the Great Depression.  Capra’s real world politics were conservative and his portraiture deeply sentimental, but his artistry was strong and his films could be complex, or at least open to more complex readings.

I’ve stated before that I’m no Capra scholar.  This was my first time with You Can’t Take It with You.  I’ve been working my way through his films and typically find them very enjoyable.  I’ve watched them with my now 12 year old daughter, who also enjoys them.  In fact, she probably enjoyed this film more than any other films we’ve watched in weeks.

It’s got the terrific Lionel Barrymore as the “grampa” of a house of collected eccentrics, family and otherwise, somewhat like a non-Goth Addams Family.  His granddaughter, the fabulous and charming Jean Arthur falls for the always lovable Jimmy Stewart, son of magnate Edward Arnold, capitalist (and firearms manufacturer) about to corner the market, driving his opponent to bankruptcy and destroying a working class neighborhood in the name of the almighty dollar.

Adapted from a Pulitzer-winning play, it’s got the common man and the brutal machinery of capitalism stuff that Capra works into magic.  To be honest, some of the stuff works perfectly while others seem to shrill a little hard.  And as likable as Barrymore is, his speechifying is certainly heavy-handed.

And yet, when the emotional surge at the end comes up, if you don’t feel a tug at those tear ducts.

Was it the Best Picture of 1938?  The Academy deemed it so.  I deem it a fine film.

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