More than 50 years after Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman wrote their Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy "You Can't Take It With You," it still pleases critics and audiences alike. The raves for South Coast Repertory's current production are only the latest evidence.
The 1938 Oscar-winning screen version not only cashed in on the Broadway play's popularity but amplified it as an escape from reality. The story of an eccentric household thumbing its collective nose at the usual drudgery of life was a form of post-Depression wish fulfillment.
The characters "find the courage to do what most Americans secretly wished they could do," wrote the movie's director, Frank Capra. The story centers on the Vanderhofs, a family that does mostly artistic things regardless of its talent for doing them. Just about the only sin in this domestic Garden of Eden is not having some hobby to indulge or toy to play with--and even that is not absolutely required.
Conflict arises, however, after the one "sane" member of the Vanderhof family, Alice, falls in love with Tony Kirby, the son of her Wall Street boss. The Vanderhofs and the Kirbys are two very different families, as might be expected. When Tony and his parents show up for dinner on the wrong night, it's a total disaster.
Though the plot of "You Can't Take It With You" was never plausible, then or now, the movie has many moments that are fall-down funny. And even more than the play, the theme of the movie is the clash of values, which is underscored by the love story.
Capra essentially threw out the play's third act and reworked the characters. He deepened what he called the "two-dimensional, cardboard bad guy"--Tony's father--to emphasize his role as a combination "villain-hero." In fact, Edward Arnold, who plays the senior Kirby, virtually walks away with the movie, a difficult feat, considering the warmth of Jean Arthur as Alice and Jimmy Stewart's charm as Tony.
The large cast also has many other famous Hollywood faces, among them Lionel Barrymore as Grandpa Vanderhof, Ann Miller as sister Essie and Spring Byington as Alice's pixie mother. But Jean Arthur fans, in particular, should treasure this picture.
Two of her other Capra efforts--"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (also made with Stewart) and "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (made with Gary Cooper)--are both sappy by comparison. Apart from such variable productions as "The Devil and Miss Jones," "The Plainsman" and "The Talk of the Town," there just aren't that many of her 42 or so movies around.
"You Can't Take It With You" (1938), directed by Frank Capra. 127 minutes. No rating.