'You Can't Take It With You' was my introduction to the works of Kaufman and Hart. After watching it, I hunted up a book of their plays at the library, and a movie of one of their other works, 'The Man Who Came To Dinner'. I loved all of them. Some people are a little sniffy about this movie, dismissing it as "Capra-corn", but I love it for its witty dialogue, its zany humour, and yes, its warm heart.
The romance between Tony Kirby and Alice Sycamore is the catalyst for the plot of Y.C.T.I.W.Y. Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur have good chemistry, which is why Capra reteamed them the next year in 'Mr. Smith Goes To Washington'. Their relationship is a strong one, but undergoes stress from outward forces which threaten its well being. Part of the problem is the unevenness of their positions. Tony is the son of a very rich and powerful family, successful financially and socially. He has no worries that he will not be acceptable to Alice's family.
Because Tony has never had to deal with social disapprobation, he doesn't really comprehend Alice's need to win his parents' approval. It's easy for those who have never had to fear the effects of social scorn to cavalierly dismiss the concerns of those who actually face it. Alice sees this a lot more clearly than Tony, and it leaves her conflicted. She adores her unconventional family, but craves the approval of her prospective in-laws. To this end, she tries to orchestrate the perfect, unexceptional dinner party to convince the Kirbys that her family, if not wealthy, is at least respectable. This of course goes tragically- and hysterically- wrong, and Alice is left feeling inadequate and guilty. This feeling lasts until the two families stand, starkly contrasted, in court. It is there that Alice realizes that, while her family may be, well, eccentric, Tony's family, with its belief that image and social position trumps truth, personal happiness, or decent behaviour, is actually far weirder.
I suppose that some might see 'You Can't Take It With You' as a condemnation of capitalism and corporate America, but I don't think it is. The Vanderhof/ Sycamore clan is all about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" and are not opposed to wealth creation. They make enough money to support themselves- it's just not their focus, or how they define success. As Grandpa explains, "We toil a little, we spin a little, and have a barrel of fun." Grandpa Vanderhof didn't enjoy the business world, so walked out and left it to those who did love its challenges. He then embarked upon a career which, though comparatively low-paying, actually made him happy.
We can compare and contrast Grandpa with Mr. Kirby. Let's take it as a given that he actually does enjoy banking and business- Tony says his father does, and we have no reason to doubt him. What is obvious, however, is that his job is currently not making him happy- evidenced by his perpetual stomach troubles and frequent ill-humour. What changed? I think that what has happened is that he has let his business consume every facet of his life, squeezing out everything else. When Tony finally tells his father of his dislike of his job, he says, "I used to be able to talk to you, Dad, but lately..." That seems to characterize everything in Kirby's life: Tony used to be able to talk to him... he used to play the harmonica... he used to wrestle... he and Ramsey used to be friends. Now when asked, Kirby says that his hobby is business; though he loves Tony, he doesn't notice that his actions are driving his son away from him, and even though formerly friends, he doesn't think twice about destroying Ramsay's life. There was no doubt a time when Kirby wouldn't have considered purposely ruining another man- let alone a friend- or using underhanded methods to force a family from their home. But gaining 'more' seems to have become an end unto itself- more money, and more power for their own sake, rather than to provide better lives for himself, his family, and employees. If that's all you care about, it becomes easier to overlook the niceties like morality and fair play. It's not until Tony's departure that Kirby is shocked into realizing what he has become, and how much he has lost.
Wow, this review is turning out to be a little heavier than I meant it to. Suffice to say, for every dramatic or touching moment (the scene in the office between Kirby and Tony is particularly affecting) there are ten others that will have you laughing out loud at their sheer ludicrousness and joie de vivre. The scene between Grandpa and the IRS agent who comes calling is, in itself, reason to watch this movie. Viewing it always leaves me a little more lighthearted, and with a tendency to hum 'Polly Wolly Doodle'.