You Can't Take It with You (film)

You Can't Take It with You

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Frank Capra
Produced by Frank Capra
Screenplay by Robert Riskin
Based on You Can't Take It with You
1936 play
by George Kaufman and Moss Hart
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography Joseph Walker
Edited by Gene Havlick
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • August 23, 1938 (1938-08-23)

(int'l press preview)[1]

  • September 1, 1938 (1938-09-01)

(New York City)[2]

Running time
126 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget US$1,644,736 (est.)
Box office
  • US$2,137,575 (US rentals)
  • US$5,295,526 (Int'l rentals)

You Can't Take It with You is a 1938 American romantic comedy film directed by Frank Capra and starring Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, and Edward Arnold. Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart,[3] the film is about a man from a family of rich snobs who becomes engaged to a woman from a good-natured but decidedly eccentric family.

The film received two Academy Awards from seven nominations: Best Picture and Best Director for Frank Capra. This was Capra's third Oscar for Best Director in just five years, following It Happened One Night (1934) and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936). It was also the highest-grossing picture of the year.


Successful banker Anthony P. Kirby (Edward Arnold) has just returned from Washington, D.C., where he was effectively granted a government-sanctioned munitions monopoly, which will make him very rich. He intends to buy up a 12-block radius around a competitor's factory to put him out of business, but there is one house that is a holdout to selling. Kirby instructs his real estate broker, John Blakely (Clarence Wilson), to offer a huge sum for the house, and if that is not accepted, to cause trouble for the family.

Kirby's son, Tony (James Stewart), a vice president in the family company, has fallen in love with a company stenographer, Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur). When Tony proposes marriage, Alice is worried that her family would be looked upon poorly by Tony's rich and famous family. In fact, Alice is the only relatively normal member of the eccentric Sycamore family, led by Grandpa Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore). Unbeknownst to the players, Alice's family lives in the house that will not sell out.

Kirby and the snobbish Mrs. Kirby (Mary Forbes) strongly disapprove of Tony's choice for marriage. Before she accepts, Alice forces Tony to bring his family to become better acquainted with their future in-laws. But when Tony purposely brings his family on the wrong day, the Sycamore family is caught off-guard and the house is in disarray. As the Kirbys are preparing to leave after a rather disastrous meeting, the police arrest everyone in the house for making unlicensed fireworks and disturbing the peace.

Held up in the drunk tank preparing to see the night court judge, Mrs. Kirby repeatedly insults Alice and makes her feel unworthy of her son. At the court hearing, the judge (Harry Davenport) repeatedly asks why the Kirbys were at the Vanderhof house. When Grandpa says it was to talk over selling the house, Alice has an outburst and says it was because she was engaged to Tony but is spurning him because of how poorly she has been treated by his family. This causes a sensation in the papers, and Alice flees the city.

With Alice gone, Grandpa decides to sell the house, thus meaning the whole section of the town must vacate in preparation for building a new factory. Now, the Kirby companies merge, creating a huge fluctuation in the stock market. When Kirby's competitor, Ramsey (H. B. Warner), dies after confronting him for being ruthless and a failure of a man, Kirby has a realization that he does not have any friends – just as Grandpa Vanderhof told him back in the drunk tank.

Kirby visits the Vanderhofs as they are moving out of the house, and Kirby lets loose and plays the harmonica and realizes these lower-class people he previously belittled are good people. Alice takes Tony back and the film ends with the Vanderhofs and Kirbys enjoying a meal together.


James Stewart and Jean Arthur in You Can't Take It with You


In November 1937, Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures bought the film rights of the original play for $200,000 (equivalent to $3,298,000 in 2015).[4]

After seeing actor James Stewart portray "a sensitive, heart-grabbing role in MGM's Navy Blue and Gold," Frank Capra cast Stewart for the role of leading male character, Tony Kirby, to "[fit] his concept of idealized America."[5]

Barrymore's infirmity was incorporated into the plot of the film. His character was on crutches the entire movie, which was said to be due to an accident from sliding down the banister. In reality, it was due to his increasing arthritis  earlier in the year he had been forced to withdraw from the movie A Christmas Carol. Ann Miller, who plays Essie Carmichael (Ed Carmichael's wife), was only 15 years old when this movie was filmed.


Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times called the film "a grand picture, which will disappoint only the most superficial admirers of the play." [6] Variety called it "fine audience material and over the heads of no one. The comedy is wholly American, wholesome, homespun, human, appealing, and touching in turn." The review suggested that "it could have been edited down a bit here and there, though as standing it is never tiresome."[7] Film Daily wrote: "Smoothly directed, naturally acted and carefully produced, 'You Can't Take It With You' has all the elements of screen entertainment that the fans could wish for."[8] "Excellent," wrote Harrison's Reports. "Robert Riskin did a fine job in adapting it from the stage play for he wisely placed emphasis on the human rather than on the farcical side of the story; yet he did this without sacrificing any of the comedy angles."[9] John Mosher of The New Yorker thought that the stage version was superior, writing that many of the story's new additions for the screen made the film "a long one and at times a ponderous thing, the more so the further from the play the screen version strays."[10]

Reviewing the film in 2010, James Berardinelli wrote that it "hasn't fared as well as the director's better, more timeless offerings" due to the dated nature of screwball comedies and the "innocence permeating the movie that doesn't play as well during an era when audiences value darkness in even the lightest of comedies. Still, You Can't Take it with You provides a pleasant enough two hours along with a reminder of how era-specific the criteria for winning an Oscar are."[11]

Academy Awards



You Can't Take it with You was adapted as a radio play on the October 2, 1939 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater with Edward Arnold, Robert Cummings and Fay Wray.

Digital restoration

In 2013, Sony Colorworks and Prasad Corporation digitally restored the film, removing dirt, tears, scratches and other artifacts to emulate the film's original look.[13][14]

See also


  1. "Notes". Turner Classic Movies. Turner Entertainment Networks. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  2. "A World Premiere of World Importance! (Advertisement)". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 8–9 August 25, 1938.
  3. You Can't Take It With You at the Internet Broadway Database
  4. "Frank Capra: Authorship and the Studio System". Retrieved 2015-08-10.
  5. "A Wonderful Life: The Films and Career of James Stewart - Tony Thomas". Retrieved 2015-08-10.
  6. The New York Times Film Reviews, Volume 2: 1932-1938. New York: The New York Times & Arno Press. 1970. p. 1527.
  7. "Film Reviews". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc. September 7, 1938. p. 12.
  8. "Reviews". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 9 August 26, 1938.
  9. "You Can't Take It with You". Harrison's Reports. New York: Harrison's Reports, Inc.: 150 September 17, 1938.
  10. Mosher, John (September 10, 1938). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp. p. 79.
  11. Berardinelli, James (May 6, 2010). "You Can't Take it with You". Reelviews. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  12. "The 11th Academy Awards (1939) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-10.
  13. "Sony Pictures' Rita Belda on Film Grain, 4K, and Restoring a Screwball Classic". Studio Daily. 2013-12-23. Retrieved 2015-08-10.
  14. Altman, Randi (2013-11-18). "Capra's classic 'It Happened One Night' restored in 4K - postPerspective - Randi Altman's". postPerspective. Retrieved 2015-08-10.
  • Hart, Moss; Kaufman, George S. (1936). You Can't Take It with You (Archival manuscript ed.). New York: Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. OCLC 44091928. 
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