Best Picture Winners #11 – You Can’t Take It With You (1938)

We are now two years away from completing our first full decade of Best Picture winners!


Of course, we still have many more decades to go (I recently added the 2015 winner and some asides for when we catch up to the present day) but hey, one decade at a time, right?

Of course!

We are now up to 1938 and that year’s Best Picture winner, another movie adaptation of a play (Cavalcade being the first). You Can’t Take It With You began as a Pulitzer Prize-winning play no less than two years before this movie adaptation was made (guess it must’ve been a popular piece!). As far as the movie version goes, I could tell that this was a play from the first scene.

Lots of side conversations and the action taking place in few places.

That’s the giveaway for me!

Now for the more important part. So what happens in this movie?

A successful banker named Anthony Kirby is planning to buy up a 12-block radius around one of his rival’s factory so he can put them out of business. However, there is one house in that area that just won’t sell to him. Meanwhile, Kirby’s son Tony has fallen in love with the company stenographer, Alice Sycamore, and wants to propose marriage. Alice comes from a lower-class family, so she’s worried that her family will be looked down by Tony’s rich and famous family. She’s also worried about the eccentricities of her family and how they’ll be seen by Tony’s family. Her sister wants to be a dancer, her father makes firecrackers in the basement, her mother wants to be a playwright and she’s always throwing out possible lines to people for approval, etc.

Kirby and his wife disapprove of Tony’s choice for marriage. So when Tony purposely brings his family on the wrong day to visit her family, the Sycamore family is caught off-guard and the meeting goes off the rails. And so does the movie. The police arrest everyone in the house for disturbing the peace when Alice’s father’s firecrackers go off in the basement, Alice flees town later, and it turns out that the holdout house was Alice’s family’s house. Grandpa decides to sell off the house, which means everyone has to vacate. And then at the end, somehow, Kirby visits them and everybody is happy because Kirby realizes that money isn’t everything and that those lower-class people are good after all……

Hmmmmm……. But what about everyone else that has to leave? I just kept thinking about that at the end of the movie. How can such a story end in such a happy way?


To be honest, I had a lot of trouble understanding some of the dialogue in this movie, so much of the action went over my head and I found myself looking at a plot summary on Wikipedia. And while I thought the overall message was good (money isn’t everything; we got to hear the title of the movie about 1:27 in. The grandfather in Alice’s family told it to Kirby when they were all arrested and held in a drunk tank at the police station), I thought the movie was plodding and….. Alice’s family were VERY…… OK, I’ll just repeat it then. They are eccentric. To the point of….. WOW……

As a side note, I loved the dresses that Jean Arthur (the actress who played Alice) wore.

But I knew I would. I love old fashions!

Well-done movie, but it’s a bit slow and the ending is just meh……

Three out of five stars 

Next time: A movie that was nominated for Best Picture but didn’t win: The Adventures of Robin Hood.