You Can’t Take It with You (1938)

You Can’t Take It with YouYou Can't Take It With You Poster
Directed by Frank Capra
Written by Robert Riskin based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
Columbia Pictures Corporation
First viewing

Tony Kirby: …It takes courage. You know everybody’s afraid to live.

Alice Sycamore: You ought to hear Grandpa on that subject. You know he says most people nowadays are run by fear. Fear of what they eat, fear of what they drink, fear of their jobs, their future, fear of their health. They’re scared to save money, and they’re scared to spend it. You know what his pet aversion is? The people who commercialize on fear, you know they scare you to death so they can sell you something you don’t need.

My usual technique of Capra watching – pretending the whole thing is a fairy tale – didn’t really work with this one.

A.P. Kirby (Edward Albert) is a munitions dealer who has grand plans to buy up all his rivals (with a little assistance from the U.S. Congress).  His plan depends on his ability to buy up all the property surrounding his chief rival’s factory for some reason.  Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore) stands in Kirby’s way since he cannot be persuaded to sell his house for any amount of money.  Vanderhof is a free spirit and prefers to live as a “lily of the field”.  He and his household are devoted to doing solely what they love to do, from ballet dancing to painting to illegal fireworks manufacture.

Vanderhof’s granddaughter Alice (Jean Arthur) is secretary to Kirby’s son Tony (James Stewart).  The two are madly in love and want to marry.  However, Tony’s parents look down on Alice and she won’t marry without their approval.  She invites the parents over for dinner to meet her family.  Every possible aspect of the event goes wrong.  With Spring Byington as Alice’s mother, Ann Miller as her sister and Mischa Auer as a Russian dancing instructor.

You Can't Take It With You 1

My high school’s theater arts class put on the Kauffman and Hart play and I am quite sure it was not so preachy as this movie is.  There is a strong anti-big business message and quite a bit of folksy home-spun philosophy coming out of the lips of Grandpa Vanderhof. It’s not that I disagree with any of it but it sure does weigh the comedy down.  The acting cannot be faulted, however.  I thought Edward Arnold was particularly good.

You Can’t Take It with You won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director. It was Oscar-nominated in the categories of Best Supporting Actress (Spring Byington); Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Cinematography; Best Sound, Recording; and Best Film Editing.

Lost Horizon (1937)

Lost HorizonLost Horizon Poster
Directed by Frank Capra
Written by Robert Riskin based on the novel by James Hilton
Columbia Pictures Corporation

Repeat viewing


[first lines]Book Pages: In these days of wars and rumors of wars – haven’t you ever dreamed of a place where there was peace and security, where living was not a struggle but a lasting delight? 

I think it is very hard to make a compelling movie about big ideas.  Capra tried and failed with this one in my opinion.

Diplomat Robert Conway (Ronald Coleman), who is looking forward to being named as the next British Foreign Secretary, is working to evacuate expatriates from China during a local revolution. He and a few others manage to get out on the last plane but it starts flying west instead of east and crashes in the Himalayas.  There, the group is rescued and taken to a community called Shangri La in the beautiful Blue Valley where all is moderation and peace and there is no illness or death.  The founders of the lamasery at Shangri La are devoted to collecting art and literature so it will be saved when mankind destroys itself. This is right up Robert’s alley but the other passengers, particularly Robert’s volatile brother George (John Howard), smell a plot. With Sam Jaffe as the High Llama, H.B. Warner as a high official; Thomas Mitchell as a passenger on the lam; Edward Everett Horton as a paleontologist passenger; and Jane Wyatt as the woman who has dreamed of Robert from her haven in Shangri La.

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This film was apparently over three hours long when it premiered (and bombed).  Capra then cut it to 135 minutes.  Over the years it was further cut until the commonly viewed version was 108 minutes.  I watched the AFI/UCLA restored version that reinstates all 135 minutes of the original release print (some with sound but no footage).  This was a noble work but, by reinstating some of the speechifying, accentuates the basic problems with the picture.  I just didn’t care about any of the characters.  All of them seemed to stand for something or other rather than being real people.  The cinematography and music are nice, though, and the action sequences are pretty good.



Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Mr. Deeds Goes to TownMr_Deeds_Goes_to_Town Poster
Directed by Frank Capra
Written by Robert Riskin based on a short story by Clarence Budington Kelland
Columbia Pictures Corporation

Repeat viewing
#98 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die


Louise “Babe” Bennett: That guy is either the dumbest, stupidest, most imbecilic idiot in the world, or else he’s the grandest thing alive. I can’t make him out.

I found that I liked this film much better when I viewed it as a fairy tale.

The story begins in the small town of Mandrake Falls where Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper) owns the tallow works, writes verses for greeting cards, and plays tuba in the town band.  Lawyers suddenly descend on the town to tell Deeds he has inherited $20 million from an uncle.  They scoot Deeds off to New York where a throng of would-be hangers-on have their hands out for a piece of the action.  Although he is taken for a rube, Deeds has uncommon sense and resists all efforts to part him from his money.

Ace reporter Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur) is assigned to get a story on Deeds, who is well protected by a press agent (Lionel Stander).  She pretends to collapse from hunger in front of his mansion and Deeds, who has been waiting for a damsel in distress to come along, is rapidly smitten with her.  This enables her to print stories labelling Deeds “The Cinderella Man” and paint him as a sap.  Deeds falls in love with Babe.  The only thing that rescues him from a deep depression when he discovers her identity is a plan to use his money to help down and out farmers.  This is the only cue the vultures need to try to wrest control of the fortune by having Deeds found incompetent.  Anyone familiar with Capra will have a fair idea how this all plays out.

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This has always seemed to me one of the corniest of the Capra oeuvre.  But if you look at it as a fable or fairy tale about a truly good and honest man prevailing over the forces of evil, it comes off much better.  The film certainly has some very funny bits and a charming goofy sweetness about it.  I think Cooper was fine here.  He must be the sexiest man in a three-piece suit ever.

One thing I thought about was the number of times Deeds socked someone who made him mad in the jaw.  This is taken as completely normal and even humorous by the film. There are absolutely no consequences.  I wonder whether this was a sign of the times or is part of the fairy tale.

Frank Capra won his second Academy Award for Directing for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, while Cooper received the first of his five nominations for Best Actor. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Sound Recording.



Broadway Bill (1934)

Broadway Billbroadway-bill-poster
Directed by Frank Capra
Columbia Pictures Corporation

First viewing


Dan Brooks: Doesn’t anything ever change in this mausoleum?

Alice Higgins: Yes. Bedspreads and underwear.

Frank Capra made this pleasant comedy between It Happened One Night and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.  Higginsville is a one-man town; all the business are owned by J.L. Higgins (Walter Connelly) and run by his various sons-in-law.  Dan Brooks (Warner Baxter) is married to eldest daughter Margaret (Helen Vinson) and is reluctantly managing a paper box business but his passion is his race horse Broadway Bill.  The youngest Higgins daughter, Alice (Myrna Loy), is a free spirit like Dan and is secretly in love with him.  Dan, however, treats Alice like a kid.  One fine day, Dan decides he can take no more of Higginsville and sets out with no money to enter Broadway Bill in an important Derby race with the support of faithful groom Whitey (Clarence Muse) and Alice.  The rest of the picture follows their trials and tribulations on the way to the big race.  With Margaret Hamilton in a small role as a landlady and Frankie Darro as a jocky.

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Although the ending is weak and the story is a bit sentimental, I enjoyed this a lot.  Frank Capra seems to get good performances from all his actors. Warner Baxter, who is generally ultra-intense, is as relaxed as I have ever seen him and even funny at times.  Myrna Loy is great as always.  I was also pleased with the treatment of the character of the African-American groom.  Although there is some stereotyping of course, he is portrayed as a real member of the team.  It was so refreshing after a couple of Stepin Fetchin films in a row!

I read that Capra was not a big fan of this film because Warner Baxter was afraid of horses and Capra thought it showed.  I didn’t notice.  Capra remade the story in 1950 as Riding High with Bing Crosby and Colleen Gray.

See the re-release trailer at