In the 1930’s Frank Capra was on a serious hot streak. By 1938, he had won two Best Director Oscars (It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) and the public loved his escapist stories that made the American dream seem attainable. Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, You Can’t Take It with You earned Capra his third Best Director Oscar in five years and was the highest grossing film of 1938.
Massive banking corporation Kirby and Co., has been buying up land as part of an elaborate plot to corner the munitions market. Anthony P. Kirby (Edward Arnold) is irate because there’s one holdout in the neighborhood—one man who won’t sell his house for any amount of money. The man, Martin “Grandpa” Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore), values his family and the memories created in the home above all else. Kirby, who isn’t accustomed to being told no, orders his real estate agent to use whatever means necessary to force Vanderhof out.
It’s not going to be easy. A widower, Grandpa Vanderhof quit working years ago, because he wasn’t having fun. Hus family are rather harmless kooks. His son-in-law makes fireworks in the basement. Daughter Penny Sycamore (Spring Byington) writes plays because a typewriter was mistakenly delivered to the house one day. Granddaughter Essie (fifteen year-old Ann Miller) is an enthusiastic if not particularly talented dancer married to student a student (Dub Taylor) who plays the xylophone. You don’t even have to be a member of the family to live with the Vanderhof’s. Hangers on include the stubborn Russian freeloader Boris Kolenkhov (Mischa Auer) and happy novelties creator Poppins (Donald Meek) who accepts Grandpa’s invitation to move in. Granddaughter Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur) the only member of the family with a job outside the home, works as a stenographer at Kirby and Co. She and Tony Kirby (James Stewart) son of Anthony P. Kirby are secretly engaged, which is guaranteed to cause all kinds of trouble. The meeting of the two families isn’t going to be a smooth one.
You Can’t Take It With You is filled with great scenes and sequences: Tony and Alice at restaurant where Tony comes up with an amusing way to explain a sudden scream from Alice; Penny Sycamore using a kitten as a paperweight for her manuscript and Alice’s sister Essie demonstrating some of the most untalented dancing ever. These are just a few examples of the funny moments of screwball comedy used by Frank Capra in his wider effort at social commentary concerning rich vs. poor.
Though James Stewart had been making films since 1935, it was this film that solidified the amiable, slow-talking screen persona that made him a star. You Can’t Take It With You was also his first teaming with Jean Arthur with whom he would re-team for the even better Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It is also interesting to note this was the last movie in which Lionel Barrymore can be seen walking, albeit on crutches. His arthritis had reached the crippling stage. Later films would show him in a wheelchair.
Presented in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio, on the surface, Sony’s new 4K remaster appears to suffer from some notable issues. There are speckles and very heavy grain; so much so, it’s noisy at times. Blacks look a bit washed out at times and detail is quite good at times, but can fade into the grain. With all that said, the film has never looked better. Considering that the original negatives were lost sometime in the early 1940s, those in charge have done an incredible job restoring this print found in a stable of Frank Capra’s former ranch home.
The DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 track is pleasant, but somewhat hampered by obvious source limitations. Dialogue is fairly clean, but the whole thing isn’t particularly dynamic. The score does have some hisses and pops throughout the score, but they don’t really interfere with the listening experience. Sony deserves a lot of credit for cleaning up things as much as they have.
English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, German, Arabic, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Swedish, and Turkish subtitles are included.
This Blu-ray release ports over the commentary and retrospective documentary that were included on the previously released DVD. This comes packaged in an informative and illustrated DigiBook.
- Commentary by Frank Capra, Jr. and Author Cathrine Kellison: a free-flowing and informative commentary, which covers the cast, production, some behind the scenes information and more. Well worth a listen.
- Frank Capra, Jr. Remembers You Can’t Take It With You (SD, 25:42) the director’s son shares his memories of the film.
- Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:01)
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