Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Movie Review: You Can't take It With You (1938)
While it might not be exactly true that just everything Frank Capra touched turned to gold, I do believe that he came closer than any other director. The man turned out film after film that can rightly be grouped with the top achievements of American cinema. This one, 1938's galloping romp 'You Can't Take It With You' (based on the 1936 play), is easily my favorite Capra Creation.
The message behind the story is actually in the title: Regardless of how hard you work or how much money you have, failing to live life to its fullest does not result in happiness. The important things in life, family love and human accomplishment, are stressed repeatedly in a light-hearted and charming manner that won't easily be forgotten. For this reason, I like to watch it yearly and to make something of an event out of the occasion. It's an 'anti-depressant' of the greatest kind.
The warmly involving story involves two families: The Kirbys and the Sycamores. While the Sycamores are free spirited and endlessly bent on cheerful (albeit simple) living, the Kirbys are a wealthy straight-laced clan in the banking business. Though the two families couldn't be more different, they become linked irrevocably when Alice Sycamore and young Tony Kirby fall in love and hope to get married. The relationship has been kept quiet, with Alice (Jean Arthur) working as Tony's (James Stewart) secretary in his father's office. But as feelings grow intense and Tony's desire to marry Alice becomes more evident, the couple decides that their parents should finally meet for dinner. However, there is more to the link between the families than either of these young folks know. Kirby's company has been attempting to buy out the property of patriarch Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore), where he lives w/ the entire Sycamore family, for some time and Vanderhof has flatly refused. The meeting between the families results in some hilarity, some heartbreak, and plenty of fabulous moments that will make you feel that you too should do 'just exactly what you like', even if that means wieners and sauerkraut for dinner or dancing clumsily around the living room.
The acting in this movie is faultless, mainly due to that fail safe casting. Many of these faces have been seen in other Frank Capra movies, and yet they never seem to have difficulty sliding into their respective roles and making an impact in each one. Standout in this movie are Lionel Barrymore as the happy-go-lucky Martin Vanderhof and James Stewart, in one of his first leading roles. The first scene he and Arthur have together is just a cozy perfect example of romance at its best. You can also really feel the sense of loyalty he feels for his domineering father, in spite of their lack of relationship. 'Character Actor Extraordinaire', Edward Arnold, is likewise impressive as Anthony P Kirby, young Tony's father, and makes just as great an impression as he does in 'Mr Smith Goes to Washington', even in this more faceted role. Other great supporting performances come from Spring Byington, an intentionally awkward Ann Miller, and Dub Taylor who all play different yet equally kooky branches of the Sycamore 'tree'.
There isn't a single scene that I feel belonged on the cutting-room floor or a single piece of dialogue that doesn't seem to have some type of profound point behind it. So few movies can make you laugh one minute, cry the next, and never lose that sense of innocent wonder inherent in all of us. Watch it...soon.
My rating: 10/10