Review: You Can’t Take It With You (1938)

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We need more bi-carbonate soda!

Screenplay By: Robert Riskin
Directed By: Frank Capra

In many ways You Can’t Take It With You is a standard Frank Capra picture, but it still manages to be a unique picture. It is on the whole an uplifting movie, the type that Capra loved to make. But, there are more than a few scathing moments in You Can’t Take It With You to accompany the Capra syrup that he was so famous for.

Undoubtedly there are moments of great sentiment and schmaltz in You Can’t Take It With You. Near the end Capra goes too overboard with sentiment, creating an emotional overload in the audience. Moment after moment presents some form of schmaltzy sentiment, and it is a bit much. But, it is only in those final moments that this becomes a real problem. Throughout the rest of the film the sentiment is integrated into the film rather seamlessly, it feels like a part of the greater picture as opposed to at the end when it feels like sentiment is all the picture is striving for.

We are given plenty of odd characters in You Can’t Take It With You, but they are fully developed. There was a chance that with so many characters that the majority of them would feel one note or caricatures and stereotypes. That doesn’t happen in You Can’t Take It With You because every character is given at least a few moments to show what they are really about and because of that every character in the main group feels like they have their own distinct voice to add to the movie.

The core argument in You Can’t Take It With You is uniqueness and imagination versus conformity and reality. This battle is mainly found in the first three quarters of the movie, in the final quarter it’s ditched for the sentimentality I earlier spoke of. It’s an interesting argument, it’s not new in any way, but Capra slyly interjects it into the film so that in most moments you don’t even realize it is there. It’s also unique because usually Capra doesn’t even bother with such a heavy theme, he presents something very light and quickly moves onto his uplifting message of the day.

As much as it feels right to talk about James Stewart in any movie that he stars in, he is easily overshadowed in You Can’t Take It With You by Lionel Barrymore and especially by Jean Arthur. She needs to be soft in her role, but at the same time she needs to be intelligent, independent yet willing to look to others for help and guidance. Arthur pulls off all those aspects wonderfully and turns in a really good performance.

You Can’t Take It With You takes a bit of a nosedive from the courtroom scene onward, but it was at such a lofty level before the courtroom scene that the nosedive isn’t catastrophic. The ending is too syrupy, but what leads up to that ending is taut and well made without being heavy on the syrup. You can’t Take It With You is one of the better Frank Capra films I have seen, and it’s certainly worth a look from any movie goer.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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