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USA 1938
Directed by
Frank Capra
127 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1.5 stars

You Can't Take It With You

The title and the director’s name leave no doubt what is in store in this, yet another thick slice of money-don’t-buy-happiness, love-of-the-common-man hokum that was Capra’s signature style. What is enough to have one scratching one’s head is that it won Best Picture and Best Director Oscars, for the force-fed populist sentimentality is hard to swallow even in comparison to Capra’s own films of this period (Mr Deeds Goes to Town, 1936, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, 1939, and Meet John Doe, 1941). Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning hit Broadway play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart in any other respect it is quite banal.

Ed Arnold plays Anthony P. Kirby, a tycoon whose corporate ambition requires him to own the house block owned by Grandpa Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore). Meanwhile Kirby’s wholesomely disinterested son (Capra-regular Jimmy Stewart) is in love with Vanderhof's daughter (Jean Arthur).

Scripted in the spirit of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves by Robert Riskin with the Vanderhof house a refuge for misfits and eccentrics, it is from these distant shores difficult to understand how this film would have been seen in its day. No-one, with the exception of Arthur’s secretary character, works, believes in, or is capable of paying taxes and “doing what pleases me” seems to be the credo of the house. In other words the only things it lacks to qualify as a hippie tract is the pot and bell-bottoms. Which, one might think would be going a little too far in 1938, although the Oscars seem to indicate otherwise. Yet contrawise, given that Vanderhof's refusal to sell is protecting the neighbourhood, as it is blocking Kirby’s development deal, why does his eventual decision to sell not earn him any opprobrium? The film briefly hits the comedic spot in a scene in which the Kirby family comes to dinner at the Vanderhof’s a night early, but unless you find "Polly-Wolly-Doodle" a satisfactory philosophy of life this will grate more than gratify.




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