The meal was an All-American affair, burgers (both vegan and non) from the grill and corn on the cob from Harvest Valley.
You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
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.
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.
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.
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).