You Can’t Take it With You

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You Can’t Take It with You is a movie, like many Oscar winning films, is a movie I feel like I should like more than I actually do. I like Frank Capra in general, I like a lot of the stars, but unfortunately the movie felt like a slog. That was as true as when I watched it pre-blog as it is today. It stinks because it’s supposed to be a funny movie with a heartwarming message where Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur fall in love and get married, but I can’t help but feel it’s more like It’s a Wonderful Life-lite.

Tony Kirby (Jimmy Stewart) is the VP of a big bank of his father’s, Anthony Kirby (Edward Arnold), which is gearing up to make a profit on the soon to be announced Second World War by getting into business with a munitions company. Before he does this, he needs to buy up some land on which to build a factory, and one old bloke is refusing to sell. Young Tony is pretty ignorant of all of this, only concerned with marrying his stenographer, Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur). It turns out though, in a plot twist that surprises no one, that Alice’s family lives in the house Kirby needs to buy. And her eccentric grandpa (Lionel Barrymore), keeps the house so that his family can do just what they please and doesn’t want to bow to the man!

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Obviously the film has a philosophical bent, what with “Grandpa’s” ideas that everyone should just be happy and do what they like without regard for money. The film is not doing anything to challenge that, just merely proving that Kirby Sr. is unfilled in his job as an executive and is much happier when (spoiler alert) he eventually leaves the bank and moves in with the Sycamore/Vanderhoff’s. The few conversations the characters have are never really developed in an intelligent way, and always conclude with the lesson that Grandpa’s right and everybody should just be happy. It’s kind of a one-note message and it annoyed me to have it hit over and over again.

I don’t think this would’ve been an issue if the pacing was a little bit tighter. This is not a screwball comedy where the jokes come and you a mile a minute and half of the humor comes from the audience’s delayed reactions. There are some cute moments, but overall they’re allowed to linger just a bit too long. There’s just not enough humor and the film is too slow to balance out the preachy moments.

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Even though I’m kind of hating on this film, there are a lot of good things about it. Like I said in the intro, it basically is It’s a Wonderful Life-lite. The ending is very similar, and while there isn’t as much joy because there isn’t as much darkness that came before to contrast it with, it’s still interesting to see how Capra would improve upon similar themes later in his career. A lot of the actors are also in It’s a Wonderful Life, obviously Stewart and Barrymore, and also HB Warner, Charles Lane (“it’s no skin off my nose”), and Samuel S Hinds (playing the dad in both films!). There’s even a crow flying around the room!

You Can’t Take It with You was nominated for seven awards, taking home only two. Out of BP, best director, supporting actress, screenplay, cinematography, sound recording, and editing, it only won BP and best director for Capra. You Can’t Take It with You is probably my least favorite Capra film, and it’s not the film I would have picked from 1938. Bringing Up Baby is probably just as “deep” as this movie (it thinks it’s being kinda deep but it’s really not) and it’s better crafted (the pacing is five million times better). It makes better use of its stars. Capra has made better films, 1938 has made better films (I like Angels with Dirty Faces too). All in all, You Can’t Take It with You is just really disappointing.

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“Oh well, as long as she’s happy.”

Long story short: 2.5/4 stars

For Further Reading:

The New York Times review
Variety review
AV Club review

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