Best Picture Review: You Can’t Take It with You (1938)

Lionel Barrymore back in action!
Lionel Barrymore back in action!

I’m still not entirely sure what I can’t take with me, but Tuesday night, after spending two hours, 22 minutes on the road driving home from work through the aftermath of a snowstorm, Lauren and I were ready to relax, tip back a few fermented ciders, and watch the next movie in our Best Picture series.

I seriously left my office at 4:59pm and arrived home at 7:21pm.  It was the worst traffic I’ve encountered yet in my time residing in the Twin Cities.  And if we were going to watch another old movie, it’s a good thing it was a comedy to get us out of our rotten mood.

Anyway, You Can’t Take It with You was absolutely absurd.  If the creators of Broadway Melody were insane, which I suspect they had to have been, the creators of this movie must have been on some sort of wonderful, magical happy drug.  It was completely bizarre, yet managed to be a feel-good tale of two lovers separated by money and social classes.

Lionel Barrymore (Grand Hotel) plays the role of Grandpa Martin Vanderhof, an old nut who one day decided to stop working and concentrate on the things he loved, like playing harmonica.  He opened his home to family members, friends, and vagabonds, and everyone just does as they please, worrying little about money.  People in the house take up play-writing, dancing, painting, firework-making, darts, engineering, and musical instruments.

But there’s one normal girl in the house who happens to fall in love with the son of a multi-millionaire businessman.  Obviously, the two families clash, and after a wild series of events, both families wind up in jail for disturbing the peace when the homemade fireworks go off.  The normal girl, Alice, is mortified and runs away from home.

Oh grandpa, youll bury us all!
Oh grandpa, you'll bury us all!

This whole time, Alice’s beau’s father, Tony Kirby, Sr., is trying to sell the Vanderhof’s house in order to build a giant office building on their property, which adds even more insanity to the whole storyline.  In the end, the family doesn’t have to move and Kirby, a strict businessman, takes a page out of Grandpa Vanderhof’s book and loosens up a little, playing Polly Wolly Doodle on the harmonica with Grandpa rather than closing the deal to sell Grandpa’s house and build the office building.

Confused?  I probably did a poor job of explaining the story, but it was some wild stuff.

The movie reminded me of a high school play that we would have done under the direction of algebra teacher Al Kruse.  It really, really did.  This movie, aside from some big names and more elaborate sets, had Willow Lake High School theater written all over it.

Maybe it was the Newton’s Folly ciders taking full effect, or maybe I was just insane from the 142 minutes on the unplowed roads of Minneapolis, but I found You Can’t Take It with You somewhat enjoyable.  It was another good movie, just as you’d expect from a Best Picture winner.  Of the nine we’ve now seen, six have been good, three bad.  And eight of the nine have been enjoyable even if they were bad (The Great Ziegfeld being the exception).

I’d have to rate this movie 6 of 9, right behind last night’s Emile Zola, and right ahead of Cimarron.  But the gap between 6 and 7 is enormous.  Next up, 1939’s Gone with the Wind, the highest-grossing film ever.


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