YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938) B/W 126m dir: Frank Capra
w/Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, Edward Arnold, Misha Auer, Ann Miller, Spring Byington, Samuel S. Hinds, Donald Meek, H.B. Warner, Halliwell Hobbes, Dub Taylor, Mary Forbes, Lillian Yarbo, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Clarence Wilson, Josef Swickard, Ann Doran, Christian Rub, Bodil Rosing, Charles Lane, Harry Davenport, Ward Bond
From Variety's contemporary review of the film: "A strong hit on Broadway, You Can't Take It with You [by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart] is also a big hit on film. This is one of the highest priced plays to be bought in history, Columbia having taken the rights for $200,000. Production brought negative cost to around a reported $1.2 million.
"The comedy is wholly American: wholesome, homespun, human, appealing, and touching in turn. The wackier comedy side contrasts with a somewhat serious, philosophical note which may seem a little overstressed on occasion.
"The Vanderhoff tribe is played appealingly but screwily, the antics of the polyglot combination of grandpa, daughter, son-in-law, grandchildren and hangers-on, including a meek adding-machine operator turned inventor, and a ballet teacher, being basically for creation of fun.
"The romance between James Stewart and Jean Arthur is the keystone of the comedy. Other comedy elements are registered at the expense of Edward Arnold, the stuff-shirt banker, and his wife, played excellently by Mary Forbes. The link that is formed between the modest, homey Vanderhoff coterie and the very rich Kirbys, created principally through the romance of the Arthur Stewart pair, is a bit unbelievable, but for the purposes of entertainment has license.
"Arthur acquits herself creditably. Stewart is not a strong romantic lead opposite her, but does satisfactorily in the love scenes. Others are tops from Lionel Barrymore down."
From Joseph McBride's book Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success: "[YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU] inaugurated a pattern that would become increasingly evident in Capra's career, as he turned more and more to adapting Broadway plays (Arsenic and Old Lace, State of the Union, A Hole in the Head) and remaking his own successes rather than staking out fresh ground.
"With the expertly but somewhat cynically crafted You Can't Take It with You, which turned the now-familiar Capraesque formula into a commodity, Capra set out to prove not only that he had not lost his touch at the box office but also that he could bring in a picture reasonably close to schedule and at a reasonable cost. It began production on April 25, 1938, was filmed in fifty-six days, only four days over schedule, and its negative cost was $1,644,736, only $64,937 over budget. Capra used 329,000 feet of film, a 28-to-1 shooting ratio but far from the 1.1 million feet exposed on Lost Horizon and less than the amount allotted in the budget. ...
"Like Lost Horizon, You Can't Take It with You presents a small utopian community with a nearly miraculous lack of need for money (only Jean Arthur has a job, and she works because she wants to) and a leisurely life-style made possible by the labor of the lower classes, in this case the family's black servants (Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson and Lillian Yarbo). The story shrewdly combined elements of economic fantasy with elements of economic reality, in a contemporary New York setting with which Depression era audiences could identify more easily than they could with Shangri-La. Befitting Manny Farber's description of Capra as 'a smooth blend of iconoclast and sheep,' You Can't Take It with You balances its Republican economic principles with a democratic fantasy of nonconformity (Grandpa spends his days collecting stamps, Mrs. Sycamore paints and writes unproduced plays, Essie practices ballet, Mr. Poppins makes Halloween masks, Ed and Mr. Sycamore make fireworks) in an isolated world in which doing one thing is elevated to a spiritual value. But it is, by and large, a safe nonconformity, without risk of adverse economic or social consequences and therefore a meaningless form of pseudo-revolt. The real down-and-outers --- the Vanderhofs' dispossessed neighbors, the prisoners in the jail --- are, as usual with Capra, depicted with a mixture of sympathy and distaste: the neighbors helplessly look to Grandpa Vanderhof to save them from eviction, the prisoners react angrily when Kirby calls them 'scum' but then dive en masse for his discarded cigar butt, Capra's favorite symbol of arrogant wealth.
"One way the film pulled its punches was to take the bite out of the play's satire of the Red Menace. Like the play, the film raises the specter of communism by having the naive Ed (Dub Taylor) design fireworks to celebrate the Russian Revolution. Ed also puts messages in candy boxes reading 'Watch for the revolution --- it's coming soon' and 'The red flag is sweeping the country --- get your red flag at the Sycamores,' bringing a squad of 'G-men' onto the scene to march everyone off to jail (Ward Bond, who later would become one of the ringleaders of the Hollywood blacklist as an officer of the militantly anti-Communist Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, appears here as one of the Red hunters). But the film fudges slightly by having the agents say they are from the 'police department,' not the FBI, and it drops the line in the play that gives the scene its real point: banker Kirby's charge that the values of the Vanderhof family are 'un-American.' It is remarkable that [screenwriter Robert] Riskin and Capra kept any of the Red Menace satire at all --- 1938 was the year that the newly created House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and its chairman, Martin Dies (D-Texas), began their investigation of alleged Communist influence in Hollywood --- but the filmmakers fell far short of the target by relegating it to just another element in the overall zaniness.
"The film's level of political sophistication is summed up in Grandpa's speech to Mrs. Sycamore (Spring Byington) advising her to keep the heroine of a play she is writing free from foreign 'isms': 'Communism --- Fascism --- voodooism --- everybody's got an "ism" these days. ... Only give her Americanism, and let her know something about Americans. John Paul Jones. Patrick Henry. Samuel Adams. Washington. Jefferson. Monroe. Lincoln. Grant. Lee. Edison. Mark Twain. When things got tough with those boys they didn't run around looking for "isms."' The final version of the first line evidently was written by Capra himself.
"You Can't Take It with You also poked some sour fun at the New Deal's relief programs by having Rochester say things like 'I don't go no place much --- I'm on relief.' Riskin's script kept that and two other relief jokes from the play, and Capra restored more of them during the shooting, only to find when he previewed the film that the audiences didn't laugh much at the 'colored servants.' He told the New York Sun, 'Guess a lot of people just don't think relief is funny.'
"Capra's erstwhile admirer Graham Greene again said it best: 'The director emerges as a rather muddled and sentimental idealist who feels --- vaguely --- that something is wrong with the social system. Mr. Deeds started distributing his money, and the hero of Lost Horizon settled down in a Tibetan monastery --- equipped with all the luxury devices of the best American hotels --- and Grandpa Vanderhof persuades, in this new picture, the Wall Street magnate who has made the coup of his career and cornered the armaments industry to throw everything up and play the harmonica. This presumably means a crash on Wall Street and the ruin of thousands of small investors, but it is useless trying to analyse the idea behind Capra films: there is no idea that you'd notice, only a sense of dissatisfaction, an urge to escape --- on to the open road with the daughter of a millionaire [IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT], back to small town simplicity on a safe income [DEEDS].'
"Yet, as Greene admitted of You Can't Take It with You, 'it isn't as awful as all that.' Simplistic and rough and uneven though it may be, it is an infectious, all but irresistible film whose virtues are in the broad but delightful playing of its ensemble cast and in the director's often masterful orchestration of comic business."
YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU won two Oscars: Best Picture and Director. It was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress (Byington), Adapted Screenplay (Riskin), Cinematography (Joseph Walker), Editing (Gene Havlick), and Sound (John Livadary).