You Can’t Take It With You (1938)

Eight-Two years ago today, the film You Can’t Take It With You premiered and went on to win Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. You need to see this movie.

Title: You Can’t Take It With You
Directed by: Frank Capra
Produced by: Frank Capra
Screenplay by: Robert Riskin
Based on: You Can’t Take It with You 1936 play by George Kaufman and Moss Hart
Starring: Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, Edward Arnold
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Edited by: Gene Havlick
Production Company: Columbia Pictures
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release date: August 23, 1938 (int’l press preview) September 1, 1938 (New York City)
Running time: 126 minutes
Budget: US$1,644,736 (est.)
Box office: US$2,137,575 (US rentals), US$5,295,526 (Int’l rentals)
Academy Award Best Picture
Academy Award Best Director – Frank Capra

A successful banker, Anthony P. Kirby (Edward Arnold), has just returned from Washington, D.C., where he was effectively granted a government-sanctioned munitions monopoly, which will make him very rich. He intends to buy up a 12-block radius around a competitor’s factory to put him out of business, but there is one house that is a holdout to selling. Kirby instructs his real estate broker, John Blakely (Clarence Wilson), to offer a huge sum for the house, and if that is not accepted, to cause trouble for the family. Meanwhile, Grandpa Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore) convinces a banker named Poppins to pursue his dream of making animated toys.

Kirby’s son, Tony (James Stewart), a vice president in the family company, has fallen in love with a company stenographer, Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur). When Tony proposes marriage, Alice is worried that her family would be looked upon poorly by Tony’s rich and famous family. In fact, Alice is the only relatively normal member of the eccentric Sycamore family, led by Vanderhof. Unbeknownst to the players, Alice’s family lives in the house that will not sell out.

Kirby and his wife (Mary Forbes) strongly disapprove of Tony’s choice for marriage. Before she accepts, Alice forces Tony to bring his family to become better acquainted with their future in-laws. But when Tony purposely brings his family on the wrong day, the Sycamore family is caught off-guard and the house is in disarray. As the Kirbys are preparing to leave after a rather disastrous meeting, the police arrive in response to printed threats on flyers by Grandpa’s son in law, Ed Carmichael. When the fireworks in the basement go off, they arrest everyone in the house.

Held up in the drunk tank preparing to see the night court judge, Mrs. Kirby repeatedly insults Alice and makes her feel unworthy of her son, while Grandpa explains to Kirby the importance of having friends and that despite all the wealth and success in business, “you can’t take it with you”. At the court hearing, the judge (Harry Davenport) allows for Grandpa and his family to settle the charges for disturbing the peace and making illegal fireworks by assessing a fine, which Grandpa’s friends pitch in to pay for. He repeatedly asks why the Kirbys were at the Vanderhof house. When Grandpa says it was to talk over selling the house, Alice has an outburst and says it was because she was engaged to Tony but is spurning him because of how poorly she has been treated by his family. This causes a sensation in the papers, and Alice flees the city.

With Alice gone, Grandpa decides to sell the house, thus meaning the whole section of the town must vacate in preparation for building a new factory. Now, the Kirby companies merge, creating a huge fluctuation in the stock market. When Kirby’s competitor, Ramsey (H. B. Warner), dies after confronting him for being ruthless and a failure of a man, Kirby has a realization he is heading for the same fate, and decides to leave the meeting where the signing of the contracts is to take place.

As the Vanderhofs are moving out of the house, Tony tries to track down Alice. Kirby arrives and talks privately with Grandpa, sharing his realization. Grandpa responds by inviting him to play “Polly Wolly Doodle” on the harmonica that he gave him. The two let loose with the rest of the family joining in the merriment, and with Alice taking Tony back. Later, at the dinner table, Grandpa says grace for the Sycamore family and the Kirbys, revealing that Kirby has sold back the houses on the block.

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