Friday, August 28, 2015

Nothing But the Best: "You Can't Take It With You" (1938)

Scene from You Can't Take it With You
Welcome to the series Nothing But the Best in which I chronicle all of the Academy Award Best Picture winners as they celebrate their anniversaries. Instead of going in chronological order, this series will be presented on each film's anniversary and will feature personal opinions as well as facts regarding its legacy and behind the scenes information. The goal is to create an in depth essay for each film while looking not only how the medium progressed, but how the film is integral to pop culture. In some cases, it will be easy. Others not so much. Without further ado, let's start the show.

Background Information

You Can't Take It With You
Release Date: August 23, 1938
Director:  Frank Capra
Written By: Robert Riskin, George S. Kaufman & Moss Hart (Based Upon Play By)
Starring: Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Lionel Barrymore
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Running Time: 126 minutes

Oscar Wins: 2
-Best Picture
-Best Director (Frank Capra)

Oscar Nominations: 5
-Best Supporting Actress (Spring Byington)
-Best Adapted Screenplay
-Best Cinematography
-Best Sound Recording
-Best Film Editing

Other Best Picture Nominees

-The Adventures of Robin Hood
-Alexander's Ragtime Band
-Boys Town
-The Citadel
-Four Daughters
-Grand Illusion
-Test Pilot

And the winner is...

When everyone thinks of Frank Capra movies, there's a few things that come to mind. There's the sentiments and the Americana. It's the underdog challenging the hierarchy to get justice. Among them is also the presentation of James Stewart. For all that the actor did before and since, it almost seems as inseparable to think of Capra and Stewart like you would Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. They compliment each other's style so perfectly that to see a film without both of them is to get a shiver down your spine. In 1938, the two made their first collaboration with You Can't Take It With You, which may have not been either's first foray into the Oscars, but it definitely marked a lasting relationship that continued to produce classics.

It was also with just cause. Capra had a lot of clout in Hollywood around the time of the film. For starters, he was the president of The Academy during the period and was coming off of the Best Picture win of It Happened One Night four years prior. He was at the height of his power. However, he did have conflict with Columbia head Harry Cohn. The two had battled over conflicts regarding final cut of Lost Horizon. It held up Cohn from buying the rights until a lawsuit happened that allowed the purchase to happen. It was reported that he bought the rights of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play for a then astounding $200,000 (approximately $3.2 million today).

The Capra-Stewart partnership can all be thanked to the film Navy Blue and Gold, which starred Stewart as a sailor. It was a performance that captured Capra's ideals of the American man. It may have not been his first film with Jean Arthur, of whom Capra also had conflicts with Cohn over regarding the promotion of the film If You Could Only Cook, but it was one of two collaborations between the three. Their next one would be the following year's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Likewise, Lionel Barrymore would also continue to appear in Capra films over the course of his life, including most notably in It's a Wonderful Life as the villainous Mr. Potter.

There was a lot of pain that went into making You Can't Take It With You. No, really. There wasn't any hardship, it's just that performers reportedly had aches. Among them was 15-year-old Ann Miller, who played the wife of Ed Carmichael and was required to do some ballet moves. While she did them, she was in pain afterwards and refused to tell anyone. Stewart, unsure of why she was crying, would have boxes of chocolates for her to tide things over. Likewise, Lionel Barrymore had crippling arthritis. He is seen in the film on crutches, which many believed was caused by sliding down a banister. This is untrue. Because of his handicap, he was required to take injections hourly and is often seen in a position of rest to compensate for the issues.

Then there was the Oscars. There was initially plans to delay this year's ceremony due to disputes among producers and directors. However, Capra insisted that they keep the date. The event had no host, which was the first of many to do so. While Capra's other Best Picture winner, It Happened One Night, would have more of a clean sweep at the Oscars, this ceremony was a hallmark for Capra. With this film, he became the first person to win Best Director three times (the others were It Happened One Night and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town). To make matters more impressive, he did this in the span of five years. The only other two directors to have this achievement are John Ford (who won four total) and William Wyler. As for the rest of the cast? Don't worry, they would be nominated for other Capra-based projects in the future.

While a lot of people are quicker to remember It Happened One Night, You Can't Take It With You has had its own special legacy. With a series of remakes both on film and stage, it remains one of the most upbeat and optimistic productions in Capra's oeuvre. While the film inflated the initial cast from 19 actors to 153, it still remains a testament to Capra's work. As mentioned, this was the start of the wonderful collaborations between Capra and Stewart, whose arguable best came in 1939 with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. They would continue to work, even following World War II. There's a slight difference between these two eras, as the latter half was more bitter and hopeless. It is best seen in It's A Wonderful Life, which may be a Christmas staple, but also is based around the idea of a man committing suicide due to growing irrelevance. Thankfully, Capra's charm never died.

You Can't Take It With You may be one of the lesser Capra movies, even if it does provide the director with a few interesting achievements. It is a film that brought together two unstoppable forces that would continue to produce some of cinema's best work. It could be that Capra was also becoming politically charged, wanting to make a difference by making underdog stories about the common man. It isn't a film that has as many iconic scenes, but it does have the ensemble and the spontaneity of the optimistic, younger Capra that would disappear. For that and many other reasons, the film actually holds up quite well as being a tribute to what art can be and how Americana can be wholesome and important. 

No comments:

Post a Comment