“You may be a high mogul to yourself, Mr. Kirby, but to me you’re a failure. Failure as a man, failure as a human being, even a failure as a father. When your time comes, I doubt if a single tear will be shed over you”.
Frank Capra behind the camera. Jimmy Stewart in front of it. A movie made in 1938. You’d better be ready from some saccharine sweet sentimentality. Actually, that’s unfair. Because while the cheap imitations of this kind of story telling over the last 80 odd years usually succumb to gag inducing saccharine sweet sentimentality, Capra and Stewart knew how to do it right. They did it while tackling depression and suicide in It’s a Wonderful Life. They did it with politics and corruption in Mr Smith Goes to Washington. And, they did it with general optimism and human nature, in You Can’t Take it With You.
Edward Arnold is Anthony P Kirby, banking fat cat, surrounded by his banking fat cat cronies. They’re on the verge of creating the largest monopoly America has ever known. Soon there won’t be a gun, canon or bullet made in America that doesn’t come out of one of their factories. All they need to do is buy one last house in a little neighbourhood of no real importance, and their conglomerate of death will be complete. So of course, the house purchase goes off without a hitch, and their fortunes are secure.
Oh, wait, sorry, that’s not right at all. This is a movie about rich guys versus poor, humble folk. So of course, the richies are evil, moustache twirlers who will eventually learn money and power can’t buy happiness. And the poor, humble folk will teach them that, through their, poor, humble, but emotionally rich lives and friendship. These poor, humble folk are represented by the Sycamore family, owners of that one last house Kirby needs to buy. But if only something could thrust the Kirbys and Sycamores together, so all that lesson learning could begin.
Well, luckily, for plot purposes, Kirby’s son and vice president, James Stewart as Tony Kirby, just so happens to be in love with Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur). Now, let the class conflicts, rich stuffiness, poor quirkiness and general message shoe horning begin!
Now, all of that might sound like I’m making fun of You Can’t Take it With You and it’s less than subtle storytelling. But honestly, I loved this movie. And not despite all of that corny optimism, but because of all of that corny optimism. I have a rose coloured filter that comes with movies of a certain age. Give me this kind of hokiness in anything made in the last few decades, and I probably won’t make it all the way to the end. But you give it to me in classic, square screened black and white, or at the most, wide screen techniclor, and I’ll eat it up all day long.
Within the first five minutes of You Can’t Take it With You, you’ll be able to predict exactly what will happen, exactly who it will happen to, and exactly when it will happen. And you’ll love every second of it.