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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
You Can't Take It With You (1938)

"As near as I can see, the only thing you can take with you is the love of your friends".
- Grandpa Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore)

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: February 17, 2003

Stars: Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, Edward Arnold
Other Stars: Ann Miller, Dub Taylor, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Spring Byington, Donald Meek, H.B. Warner, Halliwell Hobbes, Mary Forbes, Charles Lane
Director: Frank Capra

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 02h:06m:11s
Release Date: February 18, 2003
UPC: 043396085688
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+C+B- D-

DVD Review

Great storytelling is timeless no matter how old a book, play or film may be. You Can't Take It With You, Frank Capra's 1938 Oscar®-winning screwball comedy, is a textbook example.

On the 65th anniversary of its debut, the film's message of celebrating the simpler things in life and doing what makes you happy is just as relevant now, perhaps even more so given our current climate of uncertainty and worry. And it's ironic given the material's origins as a Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play during another trying time in our nation's history: The depression-era 1930s.

Alice (Jean Arthur) and Tony (James Stewart) are young lovers on the verge of marriage hailing from two drastically different families: She's the eldest daughter of the eccentric, free-spirited Sycamore clan while he's the only child of the stuffy, snobby Kirby household. Unbeknownt to all, Tony's banker father Anthony (Edward Arnold) wants to buy the Sycamore's beloved estate and surrounding areas to build a factory.

Although hesitant to bring their families together (especially with Mama Kirby's reaction after waltzing in during a passionate office-based make-out session), the young lovers think positive and hope that the Sycamore's folksy charm, personified by articulate, good-hearted Grandpa Martin (Lionel Barrymore), will defrost the potential in-laws.

Plans are made for a dinner gathering on Alice's turf but without consulting her, Tony opts to bring his folks over a night earlier. By night's end, the heads of the two families find themselves completely at odds over matters ranging from career direction to spiritualism.

Certainly not helping further acceptance by the Kirby's are the loopy inhabitants of Castle De Sycamore: Grandpa Martin's daughter and would-be screenwriter Penny (Spring Byington), who is working on about seven efforts at once; her husband Paul, whose never-ending basement firecracker factory makes every day the 4th of July; aspiring ballet dancer Essie (Ann Miller); Essie's main squeeze Ed, who deserted a promising football career at the University of Alabama to pursue his dreams of playing a mean xylophone; and even a former employee of Anthony's bank, now biding his time as an inventor with Martin’s encouragement.

Yet when you think things couldn't get zanier, the evening ends with a bang, throwing Tony and Alice's impeding nuptials into a tailspin, the Sycamore's happy existence into jeopardy and leaving Papa Kirby questioning his business practices.

Although I hesitate to plant the overused label of "feel good" movie upon it, no better phrase comes to mind that accurately reflects my feelings toward You Can't Take It With You. Once its 126 minutes were up, it instantly became my favorite Frank Capra movie, surpassing Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It's a Wonderful Life, no small feat considering what hallmarks those films are in their own right.

Much funnier than both of those Capra classics and a pinch less sentimental (but no less affecting), perhaps it is the message of to have the courage to leave the security of a nine-to-five gig in order to pursue your dreams that really resonated with me; one can only imagine how many audience members were inspired to turn in their notices after the house lights of the local Bijou came up.

Rarely have I seen a movie in which virtually every performance matters; there's not one misstep by this ensemble, arguably Capra's finest. Of particular note is the great Lionel Barrymore as the wise Grandpa Martin. Often criticized for being too hammy and theatrical, this part fits the legendary actor's talents perfectly and the lack of an Oscar® nod for his work here is baffling (but then again, the 1938 voting class completely ignored fellow screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby, so there you go). Barrymore's scene where he matches wits in a verbal chess match with an uptight IRS agent (brilliantly portrayed by veteran character actor Charles Lane) is nothing short of a classic.

As good as the elder Hollywood statesman is, he doesn't overshadow the great chemistry of James Stewart and Jean Arthur, who proved so effective that Capra re-teamed them months later in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Other joys abound in watching early appearances by soon-to-be famous stars such as Eddie "Rochester" Anderson (The Jack Benny Program), Dub Taylor (Bonnie and Clyde), Spring Byington (who garnered the film's only Oscar® nod for acting), a young Ann Miller as the hopeless ballerina (which had to be an in-joke given her amazing song and dance skills, which would flower under Louis B. Mayer's guidance at MGM in the 1940s), and last but certainly not least, the highly underrated Edward Arnold as the snooty banker.

No gathering of talent works magic without a killer script and resident Capra penman Robert Riskin's witty, biting and warmhearted screenplay (based on George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's stage play) is a gem filled with an abundance of great one-liners and marvelous set pieces (so much so that the biggest challenge in writing this review was deciding on one for the introductory section above!).

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The transfer is very inconsistent at times (grain; uneven contrast levels). Some sections look great while others look like they were pieced together from inferior prints (with a few missed frames here and there). One such moment comes toward the end of the film during a quiet sequence where the effect is not unlike someone learning how to play with an Etch-A-Sketch; not pretty. Sadly, this gives credibility to reports that Columbia Pictures did a poor job of safeguarding their film elements for vault items of early vintage.

Shortcomings aside, visuals could have been better, but it's a notch above acceptable.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: I did notice that some sequences suffered from inconsistencies in volume levels (some loud and clear; others muffled and distant). But growing up in an era when many films from Hollywood's early days were showcased on the telly with more scratches than a battered Al Jolson acetate, this is a very well done track given the so-so elements.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Mr. Deeds, Picnic, Sense And Sensibility
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Disappointing and baffling given Frank Capra, Jr.'s extensive involvement in supplemental extras for previous DVD incarnations of his father's classics like It's a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, there's nothign here. Maybe it just wasn't in the budget this time or perhaps other commitments beckoned.

But the appearance of a to-die-for Kim Novak in that snazzy Picnic trailer keeps me from issuing an "F" here...

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

With more laughs than a fistful of recent comedies and a big heart at its core, You Can't Take It With You will reward/surprise newcomers willing to give it a go; for Capra connoisseurs, it's like finding a long lost snugly blanket. Although the transfer isn't grade A, don't let that deter you from cozying up to one of Hollywood's classics.


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