Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s whimsical Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play You Can’t Take It With You was transformed into a paean to populism by director Frank Capra and screenwriter Robert Riskin. This is the story of the zany Sycamore household, presided over by Grandpa Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore), a former businessman who has turned his back on commerce to enjoy life. At the Sycamores’, everyone does just what he or she pleases. Penny Sycamore (Spring Byington), Grandpa’s daughter, has become a novelist because someone delivered a typewriter to her home by mistake. Penny’s husband makes firecrackers in his basement with the help of Mr. DePinna (Halliwell Hobbes), an iceman who showed up at the Sycamore doorstep one day and never left. Their daughter, Essie (Ann Miller), imagines that she’s a prima ballerina, even though her dour teacher, Boris (Mischa Auer), assesses her work with, “Confidentially, it steenks!” Essie’s husband, Ed (Dub Taylor), who’d rather play a xylophone than work, spends his free time selling Essie’s candy, wrapping each package in paper from a used printing press that dispenses anarchistic slogans. The one normal member of the household is Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur), in love with wealthy Tony Kirby (James Stewart). Naturally, when the stuffy, aristocratic Kirbys come to the Sycamores’ for dinner, the event is a disaster, capped with the arrest of everyone in the household. Hart and Kaufman’s third act found the previously judgmental Kirby softening his attitude toward the freewheeling Sycamore clan, admitting that he’s never had so much fun in his life. Screenwriter Riskin altered the focus of the play by throwing out the third act and concentrating upon Tony Kirby’s father, Kirby Sr., who as played by Edward Arnold is transformed from a stock stuffed shirt into a ruthless, grasping tycoon, eager to buy up every house on the Sycamores’ block to make room for a munitions plant. The film thus became the story of Kirby’s regeneration at the hands of the carefree Sycamores. Enough of the play’s screwball elements are retained to compensate for Riskin’s speechifying and plot distortions (though the softening of one of the play’s vital ingredients, Grandpa’s refusal to pay his income tax, borders on the sacrilegious). You Can’t Take It With You earned several Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director (Capra’s third Oscar).
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