You Can't Take It with You Movie Review

Jimmy Stewart's legendary career was just beginning when he co-starred in this Frank Capra classic, a warm, heart-tugging Best Picture Oscar winner. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway show by Kaufman and Hart, Capra's entry captures a wacky extended family living together in post-Depression USA, devoting all their efforts to their favorite pastimes with a smiling middle finger to societal expectations and demands.

The joy nearly leaps off the screen and begs you to join. In a charming introduction, family patriarch Grandpa Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore, on crutches due to arthritis) meets a mousy accountant named Poppins (the appropriately named Donald Meek), a dreamer who'd rather make toys than punch meaningless numbers all day. With a simple tease of what could be, Vanderhof convinces his newfound friend to toss it all away and live with his family. And poof, as Poppins says, "the die is cast."

That "die" leads Poppins -- and us -- to meet a houseful of loonies. Grandpa's daughter Penny (Oscar nominee Spring Byington) is writing a book with apparently little talent and has a small kitten as a paperweight. Granddaughter Essie (a teenage Ann Miller) lopes around the living room with fantasies of becoming a ballerina -- her brutal, Russian teacher exclaims, "She stinks!" -- and Essie's oafish husband Ed (Dub Taylor) plays the xylophone while wearing his old football jersey. Add in a group of explosives experts in the basement, a butler and a maid, and the Vanderhof house is a carefree free-for-all at a time when few people probably enjoyed that level of satisfaction. It's American utopia at its finest.

The Vanderhofs' happy world is jeopardized when a cold, stout entrepreneur (the excellent Edward Arnold) aims to buy their house in order to seal a real estate deal. Grandpa's not biting, but there's a catch: The businessman's son (Stewart) is secretly dating another Vanderhof granddaughter--albeit a far more normal one--played by the sweet, glowing Jean Arthur. How will springing the news on the families sacrifice lifestyles? Will love win out over commerce?

This was the first of three masterful collaborations between Capra and Stewart, with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It's A Wonderful Life following within the next eight years. Stewart was already establishing his trademark warmth, his inimitable accessibility and vulnerability. Here, as in Wonderful Life, you'd believe he would give the world for his woman and keep his cool whenever possible. As Tony Kirby, the icon is a lean young man, appreciating the world around him and taking life as it comes.

As for Capra, this storyline plays right into his cinematic notions of the American Dream, as well as the fears and ugly capitalist structure that can rip that dream away. Appropriately, however, the film doesn't carry that with any level of gravity. For the style of You Can't Take It With You, it's enough for Grandpa to go out into the street and soothe the neighbors by telling them he's not selling his house, and that everything will be just fine.

For immigrants and distrustful but hopeful Americans of all stripes, it was probably calming to have a kind, honest leader on your side. Especially if that leader rants about the overuse of "-isms" (today it would be medical "syndromes") and doesn't see any reason to pay his taxes. Hooray for the Communists in the heart of America! Even if you don't agree with the politics, this family's having so much fun, you'll want to pull a Poppins and cast the die anyway.

Cast & Crew

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You Can't Take It with You Rating

" Essential "

Rating: NR, 1938

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