You Can't Take It With You (1938)

  • Posted on: 18 November 2016
  • By: Noah Brand

Of the various films in the genre of “Frank Capra directs Jimmy Stewart and several other stars in a surprisingly funny drama about socioeconomic injustice”, You Can’t Take It With You may be the least of them. Adapted from a George S. Kaufman play, it feels stagebound and claustrophobic, lacking a strong sense of visual expression. The story is just about a rich guy meeting a houseful of Manic Pixie Dream Anarchists, and some of the jokes don’t really work in the 21st century.

That said, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with Frank Capra directing Jimmy Stewart and several other stars in a surprisingly funny drama about socioeconomic injustice. It’s easy, relaxed, and fun, Jimmy Stewart is shockingly young and still growing into his enormous screen charisma, and Lionel Barrymore is serving as the moral anchor of the movie with a superb mix of whimsy and gravitas. Most of the laugh lines still land solidly, and most of the Impassioned Moral Speeches do likewise. That’s more than you can say for most films of the era.

The two black characters are particularly interesting; modern eyes will wince at some of their lines and characterization, but at the time, they were groundbreaking. They have personalities, they have close-ups, they’re treated with a level of respect that we simply haven’t seen before in this list. Again, one has to remind oneself that this movie was made in a year when “we must maintain white supremacy” is a thing U.S. Senators would say openly in debating legislation, and when a lot of people weren’t yet sure what to make of this Hitler fellow.

What did this beat?

Alexander's Ragtime Band, Boys Town, The Citadel, Four Daughters, Grand Illusion, Jezebel, Pygmalion, and Test Pilot. Of these, one is remembered because Jean Renoir made a serious name for himself, one is remembered because Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney were sentimental favorites for generations, and if the rest are remembered, it’s news to me.