A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Friday, January 26, 2018

You Can't Take It With You (Frank Capra, 1938)

Halliwell Hobbes, Spring Byington, Dub Taylor, Ann Miller, and Mischa Auer in You Can't Take It With You
Alice Sycamore: Jean Arthur
Martin Vanderhof: Lionel Barrymore
Tony Kirby: James Stewart
Anthony P. Kirby: Edward Arnold
Kolenkhov: Mischa Auer
Essie Carmichael: Ann Miller
Penny Sycamore: Spring Byington '
Paul Sycamore: Samuel S. Hinds
Poppins: Donald Meek
Ramsey: H.B. Warner
DePinna: Halliwell Hobbes
Ed Carmichael: Dub Taylor
Mrs. Kirby: Mary Forbes
Rheba: Lillian Yarbo
Donald: Eddie Anderson
Charles Lane: Henderson
Judge: Harry Davenport

Director: Frank Capra
Screenplay: Robert Riskin
Based on a play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Art direction: Stephen Goosson
Film editing: Gene Havlick

"Opening up" a stage play when it's adapted for the movies is standard practice, and even a necessary one when the play takes place on a single set the way George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's Pulitzer Prize-winning You Can't Take It With You does. But director Frank Capra and screenwriter Robert Riskin have done more than open up the play, they have eviscerated it, scooping out much of its wisecracking satire on bourgeois conformity and red-scare jitters to replace them with Capra's characteristic sentimental populism, some high-minded speeches about Americanism, and a rather mushy romance. It unaccountably won the best picture Oscar and Capra's third directing award, in a year when the nominees included Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion. Capra and Riskin load on a kind of superplot: an attempt by the villain, Anthony P. Kirby, to corner the munitions market by buying up the property surrounding his rival's factory. The property includes the home of Grandpa Vanderhof and his family of Sycamores and Carmichaels, along with some others who turned up there at one time or another and just stayed on to pursue their various eccentric pastimes, which include making fireworks in the cellar. The goings-on in the household are enough to sustain the play, especially when Alice Sycamore brings home her boyfriend, Tony Kirby, and he invites his stuffy parents to come to dinner. (As in their play The Man Who Came to Dinner, the Kaufman-Hart formula punctures bourgeois stuffiness by putting the squares and the nonconformists into confining circumstances with one another.) The film puts more emphasis on the romance of Alice and Tony with scenes in which they are taught by a group of kids to dance the Big Apple and go to a high-toned restaurant where Alice is introduced to the Kirbys, resulting in some not very funny slapstick. Eventually, the Kirbys and the Vanderhof household wind up in jail and night court, where Capra musters his usual sentimental tribute to the people: As in Capra's 1934 Oscar-winner, It Happened One Night, in which a busload of the common folk join in singing "The Man on the Flying Trapeze," the inmates sharing the cell with Grandpa Vanderhof as well as the Kirbys père et fils join in a chorus or two of "Polly Wolly Doodle." (A cut to the other occupants of the cell reveals a throng of fresh-faced working men, not the thugs and drunks you'd expect to find.) And in the courtroom scene, Grandpa's neighbors gather to pay his fine, with even the judge tossing some money into the hat. All ends well, of course: Mr. Kirby decides not to buy the Vanderhof house after his defeated rival suffers a fatal heart attack. (The rival, Ramsey, is played by H.B. Warner, who as Jesus in Cecil B. DeMille's 1927 The King of Kings saved all of mankind with his death; here his death just saves Anthony P. Kirby's soul.) Kirby undergoes a wholly unconvincing change of heart, and we end with all of the Kirbys, Sycamores, Carmichaels, and hangers-on at the dinner table where Grandpa delivers a prayer of thanks. Capra never got cornier than this.

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