Saturday, August 20, 2011

You Can't Take It With You (1938)

A Tale Of Two Families - And Social Classes

- Frank Capra's classic film You Can't Take It With You (1938) is a tale of two families from two different walks of life – the Vanderhof/Sycamore family and the Kirby family – that are bound together by young love. The Kirbys are a wealthy, quiet group; Anthony P. Kirby (Edward Arnold) is one of the largest bankers in town and his son Tony Kirby (James Stewart) is set to be company president when the old man retires. On the opposite side of the spectrum is the Vanderhof/Sycamore household. Grandpa Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore) heads this loud and zany group who let their passions dictate their lives, rather than the promise of money. So when Tony Kirby & Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur) fall in love and decide to get married, these two polar-opposite families must find a way to live together.

I found You Can't Take It With You to be kind of a mixed bag. The film is generally well put together by director Frank Capra and company but it lacks any sort of impressive visual style. The art direction is first rate but, due to the sameness in the lighting and camera work, the film looked pretty bland to me overall. The film never seems to deviate way from its constant soft lighting or mid-ranged non-expressive camera and the film is subsequently unspectacular, visually speaking.

Some of the film's themes seemed heavy-handed and shallow to me as well. It must have been really hard for Grandpa Vanderhof to use his crutches throughout the film, what with him being on a perpetual soap box the entire movie. Boy is this movie preachy - and not very substantive is the message. The entire film leans on irrational class warfare. The Vanderhof/Sycamore family, whose mantra is follow your dreams, demand to have their way of life respected but they hypocritically never seem to respect the Kirbys' way of life. Hitched onto this point is the fact that the entire movie deals out its message in flat stereotypes. From opening to end, rich people seem to have no hobbies or the ability to create and hold onto good relationships with anyone – until they relinquish their high-paying jobs, of course.

You Can't Take It With You did not strike much of a chord with me as far as visuals and themes go but the film is recommendable in other ways. You Can't Take It With You is a pretty funny show with some particularly memorable and clever scenes, colorful characters (although many of them are irritating and over-the-top), and some fast & sharp dialogue, no doubts about it. The film also has a good cast. A heavenly Jean Arthur stars as Alice and Lionel Barrymore (who, due to an accident that actually forced him out of the 1938 film adaptation of A Christmas Carol, plays the part on crutches) is the fixture of the film, giving a very strong performance of Grandpa Vanderhof. But especially great is Jimmy Stewart in the film who is a real joy to watch as Tony Kirby; very funny and full of charisma.

This 1938 Frank Capra comedy left me entertained yet underwhelmed at the same time. Overall, You Can't Take It With You is entertaining on account of the excellent leading actors and many funny scenes but it lacks the visual and thematic force to resemble anything moving or compelling.

CBC Rating: 7/10

No comments: