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You Can’t Take It with You

Directed by Frank Capra

USA, 1938

Cornerhouse, 4 December 2011

You Can't Take It With You

Frank Capra’s depression-era comedy is pertinent for our own day too.

It is Edward Arnold’s film as much as anyone’s; he plays Anthony P. Kirby, a ruthless banker and businessman for whom profit is all.  His son Tony (James Stewart) is courting Alison (Jean Arthur), a girl whose family and friends are chaotic bohemians, living only for personal fulfilment.  When the esteemed Anthony P. Kirby comes into contact with them, his values – or lack of ‘em – are questioned.

The screen oozes with action: Capra, like Hawks, likes to have several things happening all at once.  Or maybe this is due to Kaufman and Hart, famous also for their collaborations with the Marx Brothers and George Gershwin, for they wrote the Broadway play on which the film is based.

If you were to see this film nowadays you’d maybe critique it by saying that its message or moral is sometimes a little too explicit, it’s too gooey or sentimental on occasion.  But, really, what humanity is here!  What nobility and generosity of spirit!  This director‘s films are always edifying.

There is a rather fine book by Po Bronson called What Should I Do with My Life? but Bronson takes over 400 pages to tell you what Capra says here: Life is short, so find out what you are best at (your soul’s USP, as it were) and, in Joseph Campbell’s formulation, Follow your Bliss.

And I’d like Jean Arthur to look at me just like that, as I tell her the story of why I’m such a coward too.

You Can’t Take It with You is on at Cornerhouse this Wednesday afternoon too, details here.

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