You Can’t Take It With You (1938) Review

You Can’t Take It With You (1938) Director: Frank Capra


You Can’t Take It With You was the winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1938. Frank Capra also won Best Director for the film. Capra was the king of the Academy Awards in the 1930s – winning Best Director for his other films It Happened One Night in 1934, and Mr. Deeds Goes To Town in 1936. The story is based on the Pulitzer Prize Winning play of the same name by George Kaufman and Moss Hart. Appropriately one of the most successful modern plays became a box office success and an Academy Award winner.

You Can’t Take It With You is a delightful comedy that is also surprisingly sentimental. It is another wonderful, family-friendly film from Jimmy Stewart, Lionel Barrymore, Jean Arthur, and Jimmy Stewart.

The film’s title is in reference to the advice one character gives to another regarding your money after you die: ‘You can’t take it with you.’ Anthony Kirby is a successful real estate investor who has been granted a virtual monopoly on a 12-block urban area, only there is one home who refuses to sell to him. He instructs an associate to offer a large sum of money for the home, and if that is not accepted, to cause trouble for the family. Meanwhile, Kirby’s son Tony (Jimmy Stewart) has been promoted to Vice President of the company but he has also started a romantic relationship with his secretary, Alice. Tony comes from a posh upper-crust family, while Alice comes from an odd, awkward, and eccentric family. Her father plays the harmonica, her sister dances in a ballerina dress, and they have friends who work out of the basement building firecrackers that routinely go off. Her father opens his home to support and care for people who wish to escape the drudgery of corporate life. As time goes by, we discover that Alice’s odd family are actually the owners of the home that is holding up Kirby’s deal. The two families get together at Alice and Tony’s behest for one delightfully awkward evening as they all wind up jail by a scheme concocted by Kirby’s associate, who did not realize Kirby was at their home. As the film goes along, Kirby realizes he has been too greedy (a la Ebeneezer Scrooge) and he makes a last minute decision to put things right by playing a harmonica duet with Alice’s father. It is a touching ending to a charming film.

Click here to return to my survey of the Best Picture Winners.

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