You Can’t Take It with You (1938)

Ludmila Patralska

The 1939 Oscar winning film You Can’t Take it with You emphasizes that nothing is worth doing if you do not enjoy it.  The only thing that you can take with you is the love of your family and friends, not the money you have spent your entire life accumulating.  Director Frank Capra masterfully manages to incorporate this message while creating a delightful comedy that not only captured the hearts of audiences, but also five Oscar nominations and an Oscar win for Best Director.  The screenplay written by Robert Riskin is an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize- winning Broadway play, You Can’t Take it with You.  The eccentric characters are brought to life by the talented cast of Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart and Spring Byington. 

          The film is an uplifting story that takes us on a journey into the lives of the Sycamore household, which is full of hodgepodge, artsy individuals that live life to the fullest.  The head of the household, Grandpa Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore), creates a place of utopian possibilities, where everyone does just what they please.  The characters’ dreams become realities when they realize that working for pleasure is the only way to live. Grandpa’s daughter Penny Sycamore (Spring Byington) is an aspiring novelist, while Penny’s husband and Paul Sycamore (Samuel S. Hinds) create fireworks in the basement with former iceman, Mr. DePinna (Halliwell Hobbes).  Penny’s daughter, Essie Carmichael (Ann Miller), not only makes candy for a living but also aspires to become a ballerina, practicing diligently and astutely listening to the advice of her ballet teacher, Kolenhkov (Mischa Auer).  Essie’s husband has not only won the jackpot by marrying a beautiful woman, he also spends his days selling her homemade candy, playing the xylophone, and printing needless information on his printing press.  However, problems arise when Grandpa Vanderhof’s granddaughter Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur) falls in love with her millionaire employer Tony Kirby (James Stewart).   Tony’s father wants to buy Grandpa Vanderhof’s house so that he can create a multimillion-dollar building project in the area and Tony’s mother is opposed to the match because of class differences.  Grandpa Vanderhof must come to the rescue and convince the Kirbys that the only important thing in life is the friendships that we acquire, not the monetary articles that cause us to live life in fear.   

            Frank Capra stays true to his film mantra, accentuating that money does not make an individual superior.  He demonstrates the dangers of a monopolized capitalistic society, and the problems that arise for the citizen that has no voice of his own.  Frank Capra manages to bring these hard-hitting questions to the forefront while maintaining a light, comedic flair for his audience.  Jean Arthur and James Stewart create a wonderfully scintillating onscreen chemistry, although the most genuine and charismatic performances come from Lionel Barrymore who lights up the screen with his truthful and endearing presence and Spring Byington whose grace and comedic timing clearly entitled her to the Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.