It is amazing how much I am truly enjoying the Oscar Winning challenge I have embarked on. Not only am I increasing my movie knowledge but I am enjoying films that I would have never watched prior to the challenge. The 1938 Best Picture winner, You Can’t Take it With You, is a film that I would never have even considered watching let alone enjoying but that’s what happened when I saw it. Light hearted, funny and with a message to deliver, this film isn’t the best Oscar Best Picture Winner I have seen so far but I am certainly glad I watched it.
This film is the story of two worlds colliding as two people from vastly different families fall in love. In fact, the plot of Meet the Faulkers could have been lifted directly from this film. The basic plot of the story follows lovebirds Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur) and Tony Kirby (James Stewart). Alice words as Tony’s secretary at a bank, owned by Tony’s father. Both Alice and Tony come from very different families. Tony comes from a very wealthy, snobbish family that has never really mingled with the lower or even middle classes. Alice on the other hand comes from a family of free spirits. Alice’s family does whatever they want. They make fireworks in their basement, study anything they want, they don’t pay taxes, they invite strangers to live with them and basically just have fun. Alice and Tony decide it is time for their parents to meet and set up a dinner. Wanting to make sure that his family meets their real, soon to be in laws, Tony has his family go a day early when Alice’s family is not ready for them.
To understand the disaster that ensues another aspect of the film must be understood. Tony’s father Anthony P. Kirby (Edward Arnold) is attempting to buy up a block of houses to build a factory. Through legal reasons and overpaying building owners, Anthony has managed to acquire every house within the block except one. The only holdout is Alice’s house because the building itself is owned by her grandfather Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore). Without owning every building in the block, the factory can’t be build so the neighborhood, most of whom rent their homes, rally around Martin and his refusal to sell. In a desperate attempt to get him to sell, Anthony Kirby gets one of his workers to investigate Martin Vanderhof. The investigation yielded two results. The first is that Vanderhof had not been paying taxes for years. The second was that it is illegal to make fireworks in your basement,they can easily be mistaken for explosives. Well, they are explosives. So, the police officers arrive to confront Vanderhof about his crimes and they happen to arrive the same night the Kirby’s are at the Vanderhof house. Carting every adult off to jail, the Kirby’s swear off the Vanderhof’s. So angry with Tony for purposely bringing his parents over on the wrong day, Alice leaves Tony and leaves the house to live with relatives. With the relationship ruined and the families unable to coexist, all it takes is Martin Vanderhof teaching Anthony P. Kirby how to have fun and worry about something other than money to fix everything.
Though I have not seen enough evidence to officially refer to this as a trend, it seems that older movies deliver their overall message with a much heavier hand than they do now. This aspect of other films is something I enjoy and don’t enjoy at the same time. It is nice to be able to see the message and not have to wade through layers of metaphors and artistic vision to try to take a stab at what the message might be. While that is refreshing every once in a while there is something fun about the wading I mentioned earlier. There is something enjoyable about studying film, trying to understand what the film is telling you by pulling apart the scenes and trying to understand what each meant.
The film’s major message is given to the audience in the title of the film, you can’t take it with you. Vanderhof actually says the title of the film when attempting to convince Anthony Kirby to stop thinking about money and start having fun. When you die you still have your memories but money means nothing, you can’t take it with you. Ultimately this film is about fun. Life is fun and it should be fun. It is more important to have fun and make memories with family and friends than it is to gain and obtain mass amounts of wealth. The film mirrors this idea, keeping a light hearted feel throughout.
There were no notable performances in the film, none really stood apart from the others. The film won two Oscars. Frank Capra won an Oscar for Best Director and You Can’t Take it With You beat out the Adventures of Robin Hood, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Boys Town, The Citadel, Four Daughters, Grand Illusion, Jezebel, Pygmalion and Test Pilot for the Best Picture Oscar. The only other film I have seen that was nominated was Test Pilot and to be honest, I liked Test Pilot better. I would have to give You Can’t Take It With You a 5.5 out of 10. I appreciate it as a good film and like that it was fun but I don’t necessarily see it as an Oscar Best Picture winner.