You Can’t Take It With You

The meal was an All-American affair, burgers (both vegan and non) from the grill and corn on the cob from Harvest Valley.

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I snapped a photo of the screen when we paused the film. Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur as Tony Kirby and Alice Sycamore

You Can’t Take It With You (1938)

Eric Says:

WOW. I kind of can’t believe this movie is from 1938. I also can’t believe that more people don’t talk about it. There are frank discussions of things like not letting fear rule your life, peace over war, and even green technologies such as solar energy. This is from 1938!

One of my very favorite moments is the speech that Jean Arthur as Alice gives about the things their family believe. Within this she talk about not being afraid. She says:

“You ought to hear Grandpa on that subject. He says most people nowadays are run by fear. Fear of what they eat, fear of what they drink, fear of their jobs, their future, fear of their health. They’re scared to save money and scared to spend it. You know what his pet aversion is? The people who commercialize on fear, you know they scare you to death so they can sell you something you don’t need. So, he kinda taught all of not to be afraid of anything, but do what we want to do. Well, its kinda fun, anyway.”

That quote alone makes me love this movie. Beyond that, there is a strange quality to this film, so much so that it surprises me that it won an Oscar. It’s a farce, but a social and political farce. It’s paced kind of quickly and has a sort of an “all things happening at once” vibe, which of course is purposeful. Grandpa’s house is SUPPOSED to be a chaotic kind of glorious mess. The idea that everyone should be having fun is at the core of what Grandpa wants for his family, but it’s fun with a sense of purpose. It’s fun that somehow connects one to their best self, their community, and society writ large.

Grandpa has two African Americans working for him in the house, Rheba and Donald. and they are a married couple. They are Rheba, played by Lilian Yarbo, and Donald, Played by Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. Their representation is pretty standard for 1938. They are servants. One thing I will say is that Donald works with Alice’s dad and DePinna making fireworks in the basement. Additionally, when Ed comes home in an early scene he tosses Donald a book that he’s reading and Donald starts leafing through it. Very minor things yes, but slightly out of step from the standard racist roles for African Americans in early Hollywood.

This movie is SO Frank Capra. If you’re at all familiar with It’s a Wonderful Life, or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (where both Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur star again), you’ll see some familiar tropes. Indeed, the courtroom scene in You can’t Take It With You and the final scene in the Senate in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington are shockingly close, and both excellent. This is a story about following your heart, but also your community. There is a joy in the collective in the works of Capra, and this film revels in that.

And there is a kitten…who is a great actor.

I can’t believe this won an Oscar. It’s SURPRISINGLY good for the time. It’s much weirder, stranger and more entertaining than I expected. I give this a 9/10. It’s a gem, and it’s amazing to me that more people don’t know it.

~~~

Jil says:

You Can’t Take It With You. Pared down it is the not so original tale of wealthy, powerful, heartless business leader, mover & shaker who sets out to once again devour the common, honest folks who are just trying to get by in order to add to his empire. Through a series of unlikely events and odd encounters he discovers his own humanity. Add in boy meets girl from different class and values, they fall in love, have a tiff and get back together. Tale one – think Scrooge. There is even a remarkably Scrooge/Marley encounter, although Marley isn’t dead, yet. Tale 2, misfitted boy & girl – way too many examples.

SO how did this film win an academy award & end up as the highest grossing film of 1939? It’s all about the talent: Script by Moss Hart & George S. Kaufmann, originally a stage play which won a Pulitzer. Frank Capra directed. Lionel Barrymore, Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur… It’s an inconceivable story, no family is that tolerant or wacky. Some reviewers tagged it a screwball comedy. But somehow it works. There is a message; humanity, tolerance, democracy and patriotism, but patriotism in opposition to the corruption of government and business. I’m trying to explain why this a film worth seeing and I just can’t. But it is. Stewart just beginning to really find his way, Barrymore so established, so at ease…. Then there’s Mr Poppins who “makes things” and the kitten paper weight. Caution: Ann Miller keeps it up throughout the entire film.

I’d give it an 8.

~~~

Darcy says:

According to my father, 1938 was the year the depression finally seemed to lighten up. People were getting back to work, unfortunately due to preparations for war in Europe. It would be a great pleasure to see this movie as those original audiences saw it. Unaware of what was to come the nation only felt relief. Capra provided them with a vehicle of celebration. The movie is exuberant and joyful with a host of actors in their prime. A youthful Jimmy Stewart shines as a somewhat naive and inept son of wealth. Unlike many other actors when Mr. Stewart assumes a role I have trouble imagining any one else playing the part.

It’s possible to see the influences of the play and film in the work of Neil Simon and even odd TV families like the Munsters and Addams family. That Lionel Barrymore could appear amiable and fun loving credits his acting skill, after all no one would have expected Mr. Potter of Potter’s bank to give Jimmy Stewart anything but a hard time. There are some logical questions in the proceedings like the neighbors lack of reaction to Mr. Vanderhof’s capitulation that would destroy the neighborhood.  There’s an odd scene where the ruined business man, Mr. Ramsey, confronts the victorious Mr. Kirby which is mostly shot from the perspective of someone behind the character who is speaking. This does allow us to see Mr. Kirby’s and his cronies’ reactions to the speech. The unrelieved optimism seems forced but again this is a view from beyond the trail of tragic events of the twentieth century.

The following year Gone With the Wind won best picture but You Can’t Take It With You faced easier competition, by comparison it is a small film, almost a filmed stage play depending more on acting and comic timing than special effects. It was an unexpected pleasure and bit of a gem from an earlier time when the world seemed to be getting brighter.

~~~

Bethany says:

I liked it. It is a farce in almost the Shakespearean way. The solar power thing was amazing and surprising. I REALLY wanted them to take the sign off her dress in the restaurant scene. I loved that dress, without the cape. The perspective of the speech from Ramsey (the other businessman who dies) is surprising and very cool film making.

Also I think this is obviously a ‘rough draft’ for It’s A Wonderful Life.  You can see the seeds of an even more sophisticated film starting to grow.  All the same themes are present. You also can’t deny the resemblance to A Christmas Carol.

I’ll give it a 9 (only because It’s a Wonderful Life would be a 10).

 

 

 

 

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Rocky

The meal was vegan lasagna and garlic bread with a small green salad. Oddly, that wasn’t planned (the whole Italian-American, Italian food, thing).

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Eric Says:

ROCKY 1976

I love the Rocky movies. I LOVE them. And I love the first one best of all. I think that people often write off this film because it’s a sports film, and it’s a sports film about boxing. It’s very easy hate boxing, especially if you are an art loving liberal, or an academic. I remember once, years ago in my former life as a college instructor…I was at a conference in Washington DC and after the day’s events we went to the bar. The TV above the bar was showing the fights. I got excited and got a seat at the bar and started watching. All of the people from the conference were confused. “You like that stuff?” These were the same people who were, merely hours before, pontificating on the working class, and looking at literature through that lens, and here they were freaked out because boxing was on the TV…and that I actually liked it.

At any rate, this film is AMAZING and it’s totally worth watching. (Full disclosure, this is probably in my top 5 films of all time. Take that for what it’s worth.) Rocky is basically an art house film masquerading as a sports movie. The imagery that exists in this film is WONDERFUL. The opening shot (during the fight between Spider Rico and Rocky) contains one of my favorite moments on film. The slow pan down from the mural of Christ’s face, past the banner that reads “Resurrection A.D.” to the boxing ring is utterly beautiful. Likewise, the shots of Philadelphia in the mid-1970s are wonderful. It’s so grey, bleak, and filthy. There is no glamour. From the waterfront where Rocky works as a collector for a loan shark (which Mick says isn’t a living, but rather “a WASTE of life”), to his apartment which is a broken down place that, in his own words “STINKS,” the visuals in this are stunningly wonderful.

I also love that it doesn’t have a so-called “Hollywood ending”…like the other films in the franchise tend to have. In this film, Rocky loses the fight. He loses. He gets beaten. Apollo Creed wins the boxing match. That fact alone is enough to make me love this movie. Sure, Rocky “goes the distance” and doesn’t get knocked out, but in the end, he loses the fight. It’s an amazing thing.

This film is an excellent for other reasons as well. There is a lot of heart break going on all over. The description of Adrian and Rocky’s relationship as “gaps” is wonderful. “She’s got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps.” Heartbreaking and beautiful. Likewise, the night before the fight when Rocky goes to the arena and sees that the “poster is wrong” because it shows Rocky with red trucks, rather than white never fails to break my heart. “The poster’s wrong” … Mr. Jergens, the fight promoter replies “It doesn’t really matter, does it?” UGH. Heartbreak. EVERY TIME. I love it so much I can’t stand it.

So yes. Watch this film. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and wonderful.

10/10

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The moment in the film where Bethany blushes

Darcy says:

As our story opens in the words of Marlon Brando, “Never confuse the size of your paycheck with the size of your talent.” We meet Terry, I mean Rocky, thugging for the mob, something we all imagine being good at because we are just soooo angry all the time. “If you want something from an audience, you give blood to their fantasies. It’s the ultimate hustle.” If Rocky gave Terry’s famous On the Waterfront speech who would he be talking to?

“It wasn’t him, Charley, it was you. Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, “Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson.” You remember that? “This ain’t your night”! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money. … You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. It was you, Charley.”

Until comparing the two films it hadn’t occurred to me that Rocky has no Charlie character. No one seems responsible for his downtrodden condition. The film looks at Rocky’s life without the sense that he is a victim of greater social forces. In an era when incompetence is a defense against charges amounting to treason the attitude of Rocky seems to have become the new America. And the one time fate steps in taking the form of a black man who is a boxing god you see the only hope a person has. Some supernatural force has to drop in because nobody down in Palukaville, I mean Philadelphia, can act to change the situation.

It makes good narrative sense to have Rocky challenged and see him rising to the challenge, but we have no idea what motivates the other people around him. So many seem to want their shot, their chance, as if waiting around for someone else to rescue us is natural to humans. “Nature,” said Katharine Hepburn to Humphrey Bogart in African Queen, “is what we are put on this earth to rise above.”

American movies have a habit of treating Americans as so much scenery for the hero to chew. They have taught us to wait among the townspeople for a Lone Ranger to sweep us into glory which we will then turn into crap needing rescued in the next movie. The idea that Terry is rescued by the townspeople acting together for their own best interest makes On the Waterfront somehow un-American for Hollywood. Rocky, on the other hand, is a virtually empty city.

Paulie is portrayed as someone weak wanting rescued but, how is he different from Rocky who only did something self-affirming after divine intervention? From 1954, “Edie: Isn’t everybody a part of everybody else? Terry: Boy, what a fruitcake you are!” Not every movie needs to be concerned with larger social issues but the success of Rocky in framing an American story has tapped into something we should be worried about.

It bothers me when people speak of institutions doing or saying something. When the White House speaks I want to be there and see it breathing and the front door moving to frame words. People speak. Individuals are responsible for every word that comes out of the mouth of Exxon. If we don’t own our actions we are pushed around by others. That delicate balance is missing from Rocky, but it was central to On the Waterfront, do we accept the change?

That said, I did enjoy some witty repartee from a character who really is smarter than he seems,

Adrian: Why do you wanna fight?

Rocky Balboa: ‘Cause I can’t sing or dance.

Adrian: I’ll be here waiting for you.

Rocky Balboa: How ’bout I stay here and you fight?

Rocky Balboa: I should’ve broke your thumb!

 

 

 

Beginnings

Like any good adventure, we felt it was only fitting to include our origin story.

A while back, after hanging out one evening, the four of us got to talking about how we should watch the Oscar-Winning Best Picture films from the earliest winners on.  Quite a bit of time passed and we were no closer to doing it.

Then, starting in the fall of 2016 and winter of 2017, the four of us started getting together pretty regularly on Sunday afternoons and evenings for a family dinner (mostly to assuage Eric’s freaking about about finishing up school. A nice Sunday dinner with the family was always welcome!). Occasionally these Sundays would also include a movie. This re-started the discussion about watching the Oscar-winners. Then we decided that if we had this blog, we’d have a nice structure to watch and review the films! We printed a list of all the winning films and talked about what we had seen and hadn’t. 4ThumbsUp4ThumbsDown was born.

And that brings us to this point. 4ThumsUp4ThumbsDown is a family film review blog. We hope you find some of this interesting, entertaining, or at least a bit fun. Remember, we’re out here watching stuff like The Broadway Melody so you don’t have to!

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