When it comes to the films that have won Best Picture, the 1930s is a dichotomous decade. The films that took home the top prize seem to be either cinematic works of wonder or disappointing duds. Scaling the zenith are films like “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Mutiny on the Bounty” and “Gone with the Wind.” However, lurking at the base are films like “Grand Hotel” and “The Great Ziegfeld.” Unfortunately for this week’s post, “You Can’t Take It withYou” is keeping company with the latter films.
Helmed by the great Frank Capra, “You Can’t Take It with You” racked up seven Academy Award nominations, taking home the prizes for Best Director and Best Picture in 1938. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, “You Can’t Take It with You” concerns a pair of young love birds played by Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur at their aw-shucks darndest. Unfortunately, they’re from different sides of the tracks, causing Stewart’s banking tycoon father and his snobbish mother to entirely disapprove of the match. To make matters more complicated, Arthur’s eccentric family resides on a piece of real estate smack dab in the middle of the way of a munitions monopoly scheme overseen by Stewart’s father.
In many ways, this is a completely classic Capra film where the intangible forces of love and family reign triumphant over the wealthy and unfeeling forces of society. It’s a formula that played out to perfection in other Capra films like “It Happened One Night” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And even though “You Can’t Take It with You” follows the same recipe, what comes out of the oven is not even close to being in the same league as Capra’s other efforts.
One reason accounting for the funny taste is that Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur have thin chemistry between them. Their controversial romance is really the beating heart of the story, setting all other events into motion. However, their characters are dull and don’t pull you in to root for their love to succeed in the face of such great odds. Unfortunately, dull and indifference can’t sustain the heavy lifting of any narrative and “You Can’t Take It with You” is no exception.
|Jimmy Stewart introduces Jean Arthur to his disapproving parents.|
However, this hope and optimism resulting from the film’s perfectly packaged denouement are why I ultimately didn’t care for this movie. It’s not that I’m some scrooge who can’t appreciate a predictably happy ending. I’m a big fan of films like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Miracle on 34th Street.” But where those sentimental films differ is that “You Can’t Take It with You” has an overly saccharine ending that leaves you drowning in sentimentality, making it impossible not to roll your eyes at it all. I think this type of aversion is maybe a commentary on modern-day thinking to shun too much sentimentalism in favor of honest, gritty reality, particularly when it comes to a character’s evolution.
|Members of Jean Arthur's Eccentric Family.|
In the end, I wish they had taken it with them because “You Can’t It with You” is a major disappointment, particularly given the film’s pedigree. I’ve enjoyed so many of Capra’s other films, and I’ve always thought Jimmy Stewart was one of the greatest actors, which makes witnessing this collaborative dud that much more of a letdown. Fortunately, I can always go back and watch “It’s Wonderful Life” to restore my faith.
Favorite Line: Truthfully, there weren’t any lines in this film that I would tag as standing out to me. So I decided not to include one as being a favorite. Better luck next time.