1938 saw Frank Capra win his second Best Picture in four years with the screwball comedy You Can't Take It With You. It is a light-hearted venture certainly well-suited for Depression-weary America, but it doesn't carry over as well as some of his other work.
The movie is about two families: the rich, stuck-up Kirby's, and the humble and eccentric Sycamore's. Tony, the Kirby heir, (Stewart) falls in love with young Alice Sycamore (Arthur), which results in a culture clash between the two families.
The film fits well in Capra's brand. It is very strongly family-centric, and appeals to that class of 20th century American eager to live out the clean, moral, American dream. Organizations like big business are criminalized, while activities such as making fireworks in your basement are seen as quaint. Those things certainly would have appealed to a country still looking for a way out of the Great Depression. Most of the film's humor comes from exploiting the "otherness" of the wealthy: they are comically detached from humanity and out-of-touch with real life. Capra takes up this theme again in It's A Wonderful Life, but for dramatic rather than comedic purposes.
Despite this, I felt that the movie didn't translate very strongly compared with some of his other movies. There are lots of Capra-esque cultural embellishments (a group of rag-tag kids teaches Tony and Jane a new dance in the park, for example) that add to the stylized vision of America he adopts, but that also take away somewhat from the overall film experience. I felt like I had to try harder to be a part of it than other movies, even poor ones, from this time period.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy it. Stewart and Arthur are particularly enjoyable together. The movie's best moments are with them, when it at its ease and isn't trying to moralize. But overall I feel that this is a case of enormous-but-waning popularity defining a movie, rather than its inherent quality.
You Can't Take It With You features Jimmy Stuart, Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, and Edward Arnold, and is not rated.
by Chase Harrison