YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU
(directed by Frank Capra, 1937)
***** (out of 5)
… is as good as it gets.
> Every moment of this glorious film reminds you of why cinema can be great, how maddening and loveable people can be, and what it is to be human. If there were a 5½ star rating, this masterpiece of human feeling would have earned it. I remember the original Kaufman and Hart play being a huge romp of fun, when I saw it in my youth- but I saw an amateur cast doing their limited best with obviously sparkling material that would be hard to do badly. In this Frank Capra masterpiece we get wonderful professional actors with generous talents, each perfectly suited to their roles, bringing the sparkling script to vital life.
. The fact that YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU is a sentimental piece of Pollyannaish leftist utopian fantasy where justice prevails because the Big Bad Banker’s heart improbably softens, matters not one whit. It is a formula film, and as matters continually escalate to comic extremes, we never have a moment’s doubt that all will turn out right in the end: the two families- so impossible to meld, will be blended. The big transformation that needs to happen, unfolds, as improbable as it may seem. But the wise, witty script coupled with the perfect cast, and guided by the perfect director for the project, makes none of this matter. They are the ingredients for a perfect film. And that’s just what we get: a huge love letter to the world, containing some very sharp jabs at the cold-heartlessness of Big Business, the shortcomings of capitalism that leave so many behind, and the perversion of values that places profit above people and duty above family. All of this is put in the mouth of a loveable old grandpa (Lionel Barrymore, perfect again, despite the broad staginess of his performance), who exudes folksy charm and a knowing sincere credibility that makes him the perfect messenger.
. Edward Arnold (THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER) plays the same role he played in EASY LIVING- the role he always seemed to play, only because he was so damn good at it, and he nails it in every scene: as the self-satisfied, power-mad, money-hungry, high-society banking mogul who is the lord of all he purveys, and treats people hike pawns in his game, until that inevitable moment of identity crisis when he has to confront his own soulnessness, and make a stark choice between two paths. The lovers, trying desperately to couple from opposite sides of the great class-divide, are always-charming Capra-regular Jean Arthur and an energetic young Jimmy Stewart at the absolute peak of his Jimmy Stewartishness, and the dude is awesome to behold in the fresh ripeness of his talent. The supporting cast play the free-living denizens of Grandpa’s non-conforming, bohemian household, where everyone is welcome to move in and become part of the family, if you have some passion to pursue- and they are uniformly delightful, including a young Ann Miller as a dance-mad girl, before she came to dazzle us with her fancy footwork in all those Technicolor musicals.
. As in most Capra films, there is a good deal of social comment embedded in the comedy. There’s a libertarian bent here too: when grandpa, confronted by a cranky IRS agent, declares he doesn’t believe in income tax, so he’s never paid it. Unlike a product bought in a department store, he sure can’t see that he gets much for the money, so he has no intention of paying it. There is some poking fun at the communist hysteria of the time, and a good deal of empathy is placed in the Regular Guy- presented to be in a class war with the privileged moneyed class. Holy shit, Capra’s films feel prescient! So many of the issues he dealt with all those decades ago, are only much, much starker and even more horrifically unjust now. Capra was very concerned about the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. He would consider these time we live in now to be a living hell for the Regular Guy. And here’s the thing: He would be right. Heavy stuff for a highly quotable, light, frothy, colorful (black-and-white), laugh-out-loud funny Hollywood romance!
> If you haven’t seen this heart-enriching gem yet: whip out your harmonica and give it gander. The worst that can happen: you will feel glad to be alive.
* * *
© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.