Saturday, December 20, 2008

You Can't Take It With You

TCM's Essential movie for this week is the Best Picture Oscar winner of 1938, You Can't Take It With You, airing tonight at 8:00 PM ET. This is a movie that shows just what a good comedy should be.

Jean Arthur stars as Alice Sycamore, the granddaughter of a once-wealthy businessman, Martin Vanderhof (played by Lionel Barrymore). He decided to quit the rat race and devote his life to the things that really matter, and now lives in a big house with all his relatives, who have also (more or less) taken up his philosophy. Alice loves her family, but is working, as the secretary to banker's son Anthony Kirby, Jr. (James Stewart) The Kirbys are as well-to-do as the Vanderhofs used to be, and the father (Edward Arnold) is extremely concerned not only with his money, but also with his family's social status.

It should be obvious what happens next: Boy loves Girl, but is worried that the father won't approve of Girl's family. And Heaven knows that Girl has one warped family. Grandpa Vanderhof, despite having started it all, is probably (apart from Alice) the sanest of the bunch. There's daughter Spring Byington, who has become a writer despite the fact that nothing she writes ever gets published; her husband, a fireworks maker; granddaughter Ann Miller, a wild ballerina; her husband the xylophone player; and a cast of well-known character actors that includes Mischa Auer, Donald Meek, and Halliwell Hobbes. Amongst all this, the patriarch of the bohemians teaches the blue-blood banker a few things about life.

This is a great movie, largely because it's so outrageous in its characterizations. And despite the fact that Edward Arnold is portrayed as clearly being the bad guy here, caring more about his place in the world than his son's happiness, it's easy to understand his motivations. A family like the Vanderhofs may make for excellent viewing, but would you really want to live with such people? In reality, such a family would probably have a dynamic more like the first son Art Carney stays with in Harry and Tonto.

Needless to say, a movie as classic as You Can't Take it With You, having been made by a director as prominent as Frank Capra, is available on DVD. Still, it's just as much worth watching when it shows up on TCM as it is waiting for the DVD at the rental store.

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