Tag Archives: Lionel Barrymore

11. You Can’t Take It With You (1938)

Director:   Frank Capra

Alex – 8.5   Elliot – 8.7   IMDB 8.0      Rotten Tomatoes 7.4

Alex’s Commentary:

 It’s hard to imagine a person not liking a Frank Capra movie. You Can’t Take It With You incorporates the familiar Capra themes of the inherent goodness of man (unless you work for the IRS) and money is not the root of happiness. These themes resonated with Capra when he saw the George S. Kaufman / Moss Hart play on Broadway.  He also immediately recognized its potential appeal to the depressions era crowds that would eventually flock to the movie.

This is our second Capra movie that has garnered both the Best Picture and Best Director honors. Although I enjoyed the romantic tension displayed by Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night more than the budding romance between James Stewart and Jean Arthur,  You Can’t Take It With You is still considerably fun.lionel barrymore, james stewart, jean arthur & edward arnold - you can't take it with you 1938 The film has a wonderful script that provides a vehicle for the all-star cast to display their theatrical talents. Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore) plays the role of the family patriarch and purveyor of homespun philosophies of life. The story juxtaposes wealthy Wall Street financiers with a neighborhood coping with a decimated economy. The presentation of high unemployment and dissatisfaction with the economy could easily be an allegory for a present-day 1% versus 99% Occupy movement. Hopefully, today’s economy will have a Capra-inspired happy ending.

A young James Stewart offers a good performance and displays his acting potential which will continue to evolve as we explore his future Academy Award winning films. On the other hand, Jean Arthur is at the top of her game. It’s difficult to articulate the qualities that make Jean Arthur one of my favorite actresses but the combination of attractive girl-next-door looks coupled with a spunky good-natured sense of humor is infectious. Of course, a screwball comedy needs an entire cast of screwball characters, and this film delivers. Among the numerous residents inhabiting the Vanderhof household are Ann Miller, the accomplished dancer who plays a bad dancer, Donald Meek as the eccentric inventor,  Mischa Auer who plays Russian dance instructor Kolenkhov, and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, as the resident “on relief.” Obviously, not all of the character portrayals would be considered politically correct but this was a different era and clearly not meant maliciously.

Much of You Can’t Take It With You feels contemporary. The story holds up well and surprisingly does not feel dated. I would be remiss to mention that there were multiple scenes that had me laughing hysterically.  You Can’t Take It With You is a feel good classic 1930’s film that deserves to be on your watch list if you have yet to experience it.

Elliot’s Commentary:

Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You is a timeless classic, with a message and dialogue that is as relevant today as it was in 1938.  You Can’t Take It With You has more a poignant message than Capra’s previous winner, romantic comedy It Happened One Night.  Frank Capra is also the second director thus far to win the Academy Award for Best Picture twice, the first being Frank Lloyd.  However, the talent of the prolific Capra puts him in a league of his own.  James-Stewart-in-You-Can-t-Take-It-With-You-james-stewart-29986512-1067-800Besides his two Best Picture wins, Capra has also picked up two Best Director wins for the same films.  On a personal note, Capra directed one of my favorite films of all time, Arsenic and Old LaceWhile I could rant about Capra for 1000 more words, I should probably go back to the purpose of this blog and discuss the film.  You Can’t Take It With You comes from a rare breed of filmmaking that has the power to evoke a wide array of emotions in a viewer.  I was laughing, I was happy, I was sad, I was angry. It was as if I was a marionette and Capra stood above me as a puppeteer who manipulated my emotional responses for the entire 126 minutes of the film’s running time.

The title of this film actually stems from a colloquial rephrasing of the scriptural verse 1 Timothy 6:7 “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”  This is fitting of both Capra’s religious beliefs as well as the tone of the film, which could easily be considered a modern-day parable.  The film was adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning Drama penned by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, and is a stylized morality play criticizing the impact that the over-emphasis of wealth incurs on the human psyche.  Perhaps the iconic rapper, Notorious B.I.G., described the concept best in his song “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” While Capra’s own life embodies a Horatio Alger story, his roots allowed him to gain a different perspective on the role of wealth in human happiness.

The film is centered on the romance of Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur) and Tony Kirby (James “Jimmy” Stewart), as the couple seeks acceptance of their relationship from their polarized parents.  The Kirby’s are the banking kings on Wall Street, whereas the Sycamore’s have rejected the self-indulgent world of capitalism to focus on their individualized creative pursuits and whims.  Though not paupers by any means, the Sycamore’s have rejected pursuing fields that do not make them happy and instead engage in businesses that allow their creativity to thrive.  This creative hotbed has also attracted outsiders to settle down within their abode, as evidenced by a particularly zany exchange of dialogue between their former ice delivery man and a new recruit where the delivery man states that “[he] came to make a delivery nine years ago, and has been [there] ever since.”  The Sycamore’s collect stamps, write plays, play the xylophone and harmonica, dance, make candy, and make fireworks as well engage in whatever hobbies du-jour tickle their fancy. The only real exception in the family is Alice who is working as Tony Kirby’s secretary in the Kirby Company.  Tony is the Vice President of the company but only through nepotism, and has a clear disinterest in the family business.

The film has several key movements, first the establishment of the characters, then the meeting of the family, and finally the trials and tribulations of a prohibited love. One of my favorite scenes in the film comes during the meeting of the two families in which Anthony P. Kirby (Edward Arnold), Tony’s father, meets the Sycamore’s dance instructor, Kolenkhov (Mischa Auer).  Anthony tells Kolenkhov that he used to wrestle, and Kolenkhov responds by flipping Mr. Kirby on his back and pinning him.  The suddenness of the action and the body type of the elderly Mr. Kirby is enough to make anyone with a sense of humor break out in laughter.  I’m not usually a fan of slap-stick comedy, but Capra manages to incorporate some slap-stick gags in a surprisingly artful fashion.  you-cant-take-it-with-you-prayerThe film also changes its tone substantially in a jail scene in which the entire cast is incarcerated.  As the indignant Anthony P. Kirby rails into Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore), Alices’s Grandpa, for the unpleasantness of the situation, Martin goes on a verbose rant filled with scathing criticism of both Mr. Kirby and his capitalist way of life.  He describes that Kirby’s money and power have not made him any friends, and that he has forgotten what happiness even feels like.  Using the metaphor of a harmonica, a relic of Kirby’s carefree past, Mr. Vanderhof dares Kirby to try and renounce his selfish ways and attempt to be a father and a human being for once in his life.  Vanderhof’s point is further solidified during the sentencing of the two parties for crimes of disturbing the peace and manufacturing fireworks without a permit.  While Kirby has four lawyers to represent the three members of his family, Vanderhof has a courtroom full of friends and neighbors to provide moral support.  It was hard not to choke up during a particularly joyous scene in the courtroom as Vanderhoff’s supporters take up a collection and pay off his 100 dollar fine.

This film is a fantastic story, with a great cast, and a great message.  The only complaint I had about this film was the racial stereotyping of the “help” in the house.  However in this era of filmmaking, these patronizing portrayals of Blacks were unfortunately common place. It is important to recognize the time period in which the films that we view were made, because these racial portrayals were tame compared to peer productions.  Honestly if you are reading this review and have never seen the film, go out and see it.  I promise that you will not be disappointed.  I don’t care which demographic that you represent, this thought-provoking and enchanting film is truly a classic of American cinema and should not overlooked.

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5. Grand Hotel (1932)

Director:  Edmund Goulding

Alex – 6.9   Elliot – 7.2  IMDB 7.6   Rotten Tomatoes 7.4

Alex’s Commentary:

Grand Hotel is an unusual quirky film. It features a blockbuster cast of stars including Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Berry, and Lionel Barrymore and was billed as “the greatest cast in stage or screen history!” The story follows the lives of assorted characters during a brief stay at the Grand Hotel, a luxuriousBerlin hotel. Obviously, with a story involving so many characters, the individual backgrounds of the hotel guests cannot be explored in depth and, in fact, remain a mystery for the viewer to draw one’s own conclusions. lewisstoneasdrotternschlagingrandhotelPerhaps what brought the characters to this place is not as important as what their current circumstance appears to be and how each character deals with adversity. To me, the movie expresses certain truisms – one, good people faced with grim financial prospects will often be drawn to do bad things (such as theft or adultery); two, wealthy people faced with the potential loss of wealth will often do bad things (such as lying and murder); three, wealthy and successful people can still suffer from depression despite material comforts; and four, people facing imminent death can enjoy their remaining days because they are freed from the burdens of responsibility and conformity. I can’t help but feel the screenwriter was sending a message to all of those affected by the Great Depression that was still devastating the American filmgoer. I do not know whether the message that wealth does not lead to happiness could make a depression-era filmgoer feel better, but that’s the impression the writer appears to convey. If all this sounds confusing, it is because it is.  Unless the viewer pays close attention to the dialogue, the interwoven vignettes would become increasingly difficult to follow.  There were some interesting plot twists but I did not feel an emotional connection with any of the characters.

I did enjoy seeing 1930’s glamour and the hotel switchboard scenes were a great reminder of a bygone era. The director presents scenes of the luxurious hotel with dramatic angles and interesting lighting effects particularly the shots from the top floor overlooking the open lobby below.

Elliot’s Commentary:

Grand Hotel was the most eccentric film we have viewed so far in our quest to view all of the Best Picture winners.   While the acting was a bit dated, the Grand Hotel touched upon certain societal themes that still ring true today.  Especially in the dialogue between the haves and the have-nots, the depression-era socioeconomic divide clearly influenced the film’s moral compass.  This film was another example of an ensemble piece that relies on a diverse character-base to provide a snapshot of life in a specific setting.  Each character has a unique function, and represents a role from a different class or profession.  grandhotel2 Interestingly enough, this was actually the second film that we have viewed thus far to take place in Germany, a setting that will become infinitely less popular after the beginning of the United States involvement in WWII starting in 1941.  While it is hard to compare the technical aspects of Grand Hotel to the more grandiose productions of Cimarron and All Quiet on the Western Front, the scene transitions were smoother than its predecessors and appeared to be a more finished final product.  Grand Hotel also contained bona fide Hollywood stars, an aspect the previous films did not capitalize on.   Greta Garbo plays Grusinskaya the beautiful and troubled dancer.  John Barrymore (Drew Barrymore’s grandfather) plays The Baron Felix von Gaigern, a cat burglar and imposter.  As well as a supporting role played by Joan Crawford as a stenographer, to help fill out the rest of the talented ensemble cast.  My favorite member of the ensemble cast was the mysterious doctor (Lewis Stone) who would appear in different scenes and provide commentary about the characters in the Hotel.  He delivers the famous tagline “Grand Hotel… always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.”  This serves as the complete antonym of the reality of the situation, but draws the audience in with the force of the narrator of The Twilight Zone.

Overall, I enjoyed the film and found it a nice mix of drama, quirk, and comedy.  It was the first real glimpse we have had in our journey of the golden age ofHollywood.   I left the finish of the film with great optimism both for what clearly had shown me the refinement I was looking for in these films as well as the fantastic movies we shall see in the future.

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