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With: Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, Edward Arnold, Mischa Auer, Ann Miller, Spring Byington, Samuel S. Hinds, Donald Meek, H.B. Warner, Halliwell Hobbes, Dub Taylor, Mary Forbes, Lillian Yarbo, Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson
Written by: Robert Riskin, based on a play by George S. Kaufman, Moss Hart
Directed by: Frank Capra
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 126
Date: 08/23/1938

You Can't Take It with You (1938)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Frank Capra's You Can't Take It with You has been remastered in 4K digital and given a new Blu-ray treatment for 2015, and despite a few minor concepts ("there are 48 states"), most of its ideas are still appealingly relevant. Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur) lives in a huge house with most of her family, plus some spouses and some hangers-on, and everyone is happy. Her grandfather Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore) believes in feeding the human soul by doing the things one loves, and he supports that in his home. He himself collects stamps; his daughter (Spring Byington) paints, a granddaughter dances, her husband plays the xylophone, and other family members make firecrackers in the basement. The newest foundling, Mr. Poppins (Donald Meek), makes masks and toys; he quits his job as an accountant to be there.

A wealthy banker with stomach ulcers, Anthony P. Kirby (Edward Arnold), is involved in creating a monopoly and adding enormous amounts of money and power to his already substantial money and power. Part of his scheme involves buying all the property in a neighborhood, including Vanderhof's house. In a stroke of dramatic license, Alice happens to be the secretary for Kirby's kind-hearted son, Tony (James Stewart). They want to marry, which involves the snooty Kirby family meeting the free-spirited Vanderhof household. Of course, everything goes spectacularly wrong, and climaxes in prison and night court.

Based on a play by Kaufman and Hart, the movie is quite long (126 minutes), and it definitely runs out of steam after the night court sequence. It turns maudlin as everyone loses everything and pleads and sulks for a while before the happy ending. But underneath it was Capra's earnest and still-valuable plea that people have it in them to be great. All we have to do is take care of ourselves by taking care of each other. Money and power and fear are not really the best way to go, although they are still championed that way. Capra really tried to use his success to change the world, and as hokey as it may sound, I respect his courage. He really believed in what he was doing, which is a far cry from being in the movie business for fame and money alone, cranking out movies as business decisions and products.

Now I'm sounding Capra-esque. But the point is that I really enjoyed You Can't Take It with You. It's spirited and wise and in love with its characters. Jimmy Stewart wasn't quite yet a huge star, but he was in the final stages of forming his beloved screen persona here, and he's terrific. It wasn't the best movie of that year -- it's nowhere near as funny or as brilliantly constructed or subversive as Howard Hawks's Bringing Up Baby -- but it still won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. It also received nominations for Screenplay, Cinematography, Sound, Editing, and a Best Supporting Actress nod for Spring Byington. Columbia Pictures' Blu-ray edition comes in a hardback book case, with a beautiful illustrated essay and an insert for an optional digital copy of the movie. Extras are all from previous releases, including a commentary tracks and a video interview by Frank Capra Jr. and a trailer. Viewers will find that the video and audio transfer are the best they've ever seen.

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