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Frank Capra
Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, Edward Arnold, Mischa Auer, Ann Miller
Writing Credits:
Robert Riskin

Not Rated.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Picture; Best Director.

Nominated for Best Actress-Spring Byington; Best Screenplay; Best Cinematography; Best Film Editing; Best Sound.

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Monaural

Runtime: 126 min.
Price: $59.95
Release Date: 12/5/2006

• Audio Commentary with Frank Capra Jr. and Author Cathrine Kellison
• “Frank Capra Jr. Remembers… You Can’t Take It With You” Featurette

Available Only as Part of “The Frank Capra Premiere Collection”


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You Can't Take It With You: The Premiere Frank Capra Collection (1938)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 10, 2006)

Frank Capra’s second Oscar-winning flick, 1938’s You Can’t Take It With You introduces us to the firm of Anthony Kirby and Company. Anthony Kirby (Edward Arnold) wants to monopolize the munitions business, and he desires to put competitor Ramsey (H.B. Warner) out of business. To do so, he needs to purchase all of the buildings within the 12 blocks that surround Ramsey, but one of them refuses to sell.

Owned by Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore), the home houses his clan of free spirits who do what they want. One dances, another writes, one other invents; essentially they feel free to pursue their dreams. He refuses to sell his house despite the pestering of Kirby’s minions.

What complicates this story? The romantic involvement of Kirby’s son Tony (James Stewart) and Vanderhof’s granddaughter Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur). Not only does Alice serve as Tony’s secretary, but also the two love each other and plan to marry. Given their disparate backgrounds, this seems like a tough match, but they try to get their families together.

A further impediment occurs when the IRS comes a-calling to the Vanderhof residence. It seems that Martin never bothered to pay income tax, as he didn’t trust the government to spend it appropriately. He owes 22 years back taxes, which puts him in such a financial bind that he might need to sell the house.

You Can’t Take It With You mostly seems like sentimental piffle, but it appears well done for that genre. Directed by Capra, the film shows all the normal hallmarks of his flicks, and foes of his style certainly won’t find anything to change their opinions here.

Actually, Take feels something like a dry run for a better-known Capra film, 1946’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Much about the two movies appears dissimilar, but Take bears quite a few moments that resemble those of Wonderful. Kirby certainly comes across as a less nasty version of Wonderful’s Mr. Potter, and a segment in which neighbors take up a collection for the Vanderhofs strongly reminds me of Wonderful’s ending. (It seems intriguing that Lionel Barrymore played both Vanderhof and Potter; it’s tough to imagine two less similar characters.)

Where Take and Wonderful differ stems from their overall tones. Wonderful is more of a moral lesson as a whole, while most of Take functions as a wacky comedy. Sure, the movie inserts social commentary with some regularity; the flick definitely feels like a piece of its Depression era, as we see the nobility of the common man opposed to the aloofness of the elite.

However, Wonderful focuses more on the life lessons of one character, while Take pushes comic situations over story for the most part. Granted, we’re frequently led to see the loosy-goosy Vanderhof clan as the ideal and the stuffy Kirbys as a drag, but much of the time, this feels mostly like an excuse for comedic shenanigans.

Take benefits from some good performances. Some of the actors get on my nerves – Dub Taylor and Ann Miller seem moderately annoying at times – but they appear less grating than I’d expect. In its free-spirit tone, Take reminds me of the hippie-era travesty Harold and Maude. However, the characters of Take never appear nearly as smug and obnoxious as those in Maude. I normally hate this kind of “do what you feel like” tale, but the extended Vanderhof clan manage to come across as generally likable.

Jean Arthur does particularly well with Alice. We have to believe the character as someone from the Vanderhof family who also could fall in love with a Kirby, and she spans the two disciplines well. Granted, it helps that we see that Tony isn’t uptight like his parents, but I still think that Arthur encountered a big challenge with Alice. She makes the role lovely and charming.

Ultimately, You Can’t Take It With You feels like an enjoyable and well-executed but somewhat insubstantial movie. Admittedly, it’s nice to see that the Academy honored comedies more willingly back in the Thirties; it seems doubtful that a flick such as this could win Best Picture in modern times. Not much about Take made a major impact on me, but it appears to be a fairly entertaining piece.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B-/ Bonus C

You Can’t Take It With You appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite a mix of concerns, the movie usually looked pretty decent.

Sharpness seemed somewhat inconsistent. Most of the time the image remained acceptably crisp and distinct, but it could also turn a bit soft. However, the flick was generally accurate; it just lacked terrific definition at times. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no issues, and I also noticed no signs of edge enhancement.

Print flaws created minor concerns. Excessive grain was the biggest distraction, as much of the movie looked grainier than normal. In addition, I saw a smattering of small specks and marks. These weren’t overwhelming, though; the grain was the only real concern.

Much of Take seemed overly bright, and the image came across as somewhat washed out at times. For the most part, black levels remained acceptably deep despite the erratic contrast; they looked a bit grayish at times but usually stayed decent. Shadow detail wasn’t a concern since the movie generally came across as too light; this meant that low-light sequences were easily visible if not appropriately rendered. The various problems were too much to make this transfer earn a grade above a “C+”, but it was reasonably satisfying.

The monaural audio of You Can’t Take It With You came across as satisfactory. The track lacked many notable flaws. I noticed some light background noise at times, but for the most part, the mix seemed free from the usual pops and clicks that appear in films of this era.

The quality of the audio was perfectly acceptable given the movie’s age. Speech appeared clear and intelligible; the lines could be a little thin, but they were surprisingly natural. Effects and music followed suit. While neither displayed much life, they seemed more than adequate for older recordings. This wasn’t a powerhouse of a mix, but it appeared pretty good when I considered its age.

How did the picture and audio of this 2006 DVD compare to those of the original 2003 DVD? Both showed notable improvements. The visuals looked noticeably cleaner and were a little better defined as well. The sound seemed broader and more natural. I thought the new disc was a definite step up in quality.

While the 2003 release skimped on extras, this 2006 version offers a few components. We find an audio commentary from director’s son Frank Capra Jr. and author Cathrine Kellison. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They discuss cast and crew, music and cinematography, sets, comparisons with the original play, themes and the director’s fondness for stories of individuality, and other scene specifics. Capra also reads some relevant details from his dad’s autobiography.

Capra and Kellison turn out a disappointing commentary. They throw out some decent notes, and I like the story Capra relates about his dad’s conflict with Columbia chief Harry Cohn; this pops up around the movie’s halfway point and briefly enlivens matters. Unfortunately, most of the track features praise for the flick and laughing as the pair watch it. This turns out to be a very lackluster and often dull track.

Next come Frank Capra Jr. Remembers… You Can’t Take It With You. In this 25-minute and 41-second featurette, we hear from the younger Capra as well as Columbia University Associate Professor of Film Richard Pena, and Frank Capra Archives curator Jeanine Basinger. The program starts with info about old Frank’s conflict with Cohn. The show also gets into comparisons between the movie and the play, various aspects of the cast, characters and story, and other thoughts about the elder Capra.

“Remembers” digresses a little at times, but it usually proves satisfying. Since it covers the Cohn story, it includes the main attraction from the commentary and renders that chat fairly superfluous. Indeed, Capra covers most of the same material, so there’s little reason to screen the commentary. The other participants also bring out some nice notes, especially as Basinger delves into the differences between the flick and the play. This is a reasonably informative little piece.

As part of “The Premiere Frank Capra Collection”, we get an extensive booklet. This piece covers You Can’t Take It With You along with four other Capra flicks and different aspects of his career and life in the 1930s. It comes with a mix of photos and other archival materials along with good information. It acts as a quality component.

Does this release lose any extras from the 2003 DVD? Yes, but not anything substantial. It drops trailers for 2002’s Adam Sandler flick Mr. Deeds as well as the 1995 edition of Sense and Sensibility and 1955’s Picnic.

You Can’t Take It With You doesn’t stand as one of the strongest Best Picture winners, and it doesn’t even appear to be one of Frank Capra’s top flicks. Nonetheless, it comes across as generally likeable and amusing, and it does more right than wrong. The DVD offers perfectly acceptable picture and sound quality along with a smattering of mediocre extras. This is a decent disc for a moderately entertaining movie.

Note that this release of You Can’t Take It With You currently appears only as part of “The Premiere Frank Capra Collection”. This set also includes It Happened One Night, American Madness, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and a documentary called Frank Capra’s American Dream.

To rate this film visit the original review of YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU

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