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You Can't Take It with You

You Can't Take It With You (1938)

This is probably the craziest Capra film written by Robert Riskin, even if it is an adaptation of a George S. Kaufmann-Moss Hart play. The reason it's so crazy isn't that it advocates people doing what makes them happy (even if they never earn money from it). It's just packed with such a large cast of characters all pursuing their loves and all doing it under one roof. One second, you have Dub Taylor playing a xylophone while his wife Ann Miller twirls around the living room with her Russian dance instructor Mischa Auer claiming "She stinks!"; at the exact same moment, an African-American couple, played by Eddie "Rochester" Anderson and Lillian Yarbo, are jiving to the music in the kitchen, while the patriarch of the family (Lionel Barrymore) is explaining to an IRS auditor (Charles Lane) why he never has and will never pay any income taxes. This is going on while Grandpa's daughter (Spring Byington) is typing her latest play; why is she a playwright, you ask? Because nine years earlier someone accidentally delivered a typewriter to the wrong address. The playwright's husband (Samuel S. Hinds) is down in the cellar making fireworks with another oldtimer (Halliwell Hobbes), and the newest member (Donald Meek) of the extended family is also down there "making up things", such as a cute mechanical rabbit who pops out of a basket while music plays.

That's basically the supporting cast. The principal story involves wealthy munitions manufacturer Kirby (Edward Arnold) who wants to buy up a huge area of homes and businesses, but there's one person who is a holdout. Unbeknownst to Kirby, that man is Grandpa. Kirby's son Tony (James Stewart) is the vice president of his company, and he's madly in love with his secretary Alice (Jean Arthur) who just happens to be Grandpa's granddaughter. When Tony announces that he's engaged to Alice, he arranges for his father and snooty mother (Mary Forbes) to have dinner at Alice's house. The sneaky thing is that Tony brings his family a day early because he doesn't want Alice's family to behave any differently than normal for his wealthy parents. Needless to say, things don't go as planned.

If you're like me, you'll laugh and cry at the film. You'll also find its message to be just as pertinent now as it was in the Depression and at the dawning of WW II. There are allusions to solar power, the world about to go to war again, a community rallying together to keep its dreams in the face of the powers-that-be, the fact that money can't buy you happiness and that happiness can exist without money. It has some very romantic moments between Jean Arthur and James Stewart, who reteamed with Capra the next year in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. This film isn't as well known today as Mr. Smith, It Happened One Night and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, but if you want to be enveloped in Capracorn, one of the very best kinds of "popcorn" films, you could do a lot worse than watch this film.