You Can't Take It With You (1938)

You Can't Take It With You
Barrymore, Stewart, Arthur, Arnold

'You Can't Take It With You' is a comedy film made in 1938, directed by Frank Capra and with a top class cast including James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore and Edward Arnold. It was adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.

The movie was a great success critically, and at the box-office it became the highest grossing picture of 1938. It received a total of seven Academy Award nominations and won two; Best Director for Frank Capra and Best Picture. and was nominated for Supporting Actress (Spring Byington), Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing and Sound Recording. It was Capra's third win in five years for Best Director, following 'It Happened One Night' in 1934 and 'Mr. Deeds Goes to Town' in 1936, and cemented his reputation as one of the top directors in Hollywood.


The storyline is pure screwball and deals with the relationship between two very different families, the eccentric Sycamore family and the wealthy and uptight banking family, the Kirbys. Alice Sycamore, played by Jean Arthur, is a relatively normal member of her clan and when she meets and falls for Tony Kirby, played by James Stewart, a meeting of the two families is necessary. The Sycamores invite the Kirbys to dinner to become better acquainted but things do not turn out the way Alice had hoped.

The movie is genuinely funny and entertaining and there is a moral to the story. Although Alice is lower socially than Tony, she and her family register more highly on the moral scale and she is able at the end to declare that it's his family who are not good enough.


The original stage play was a major success. With a brilliant script by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, it won the Pulitzer Prize for the 1936-37 season, and ran on Broadway for two years and 838 performances.

Harry Cohn, President of Columbia Pictures bought the film rights of the play in November 1937, for $200,000. The screenplay was written by Robert Riskin who made several changes from the stage version including bolstering the part of Tony Kirby and adding some new interesting characters such as Mr. Poppins. The original stage version of 'You Can't Take It with You' has 19 parts for actors. The film version has 153.

Filming began in April 1938 at the Columbia Ranch in Burbank, California and the large cast blended together without friction.

The acting from the large cast is superb throughout with special mention going to Lionel Barrymore as Grandpa Vanderhof. There are excellent performances, too, from Spring Byington as Penny Sycamore and a young Ann Miller as the ballerina, Essie, who was only 15 years old at the time of filming.

The movie was the first of three successful collaborations between director Frank Capra and actor James Stewart. The others were 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' i 1939 and 'It's a Wonderful Life' in 1946. Stewart was not yet a star in 1938 but Capra cast him after seeing his sensitive performance in 'Navy Blue and Gold' in 1937. the film's success was a great boost to Stewart's career, helping establish him as a bona fide star.

Lionel Barrymore was becoming increasingly crippled by arthritis and would soon be wheelchair bound. His infirmity was written into the plot and his need for crutches was explained as being due to an earlier accident when sliding down a bannister.

Capra was a great admirer of actress Jean Arthur and wanted her from the start for the role of Alice Sycamore. He had directed her in 'Mr. Deeds Goes to Town' and called her her "the finest actress of the day." Jean Arthur was delighted to be given the part.

Main Cast

Jean Arthur ... Alice Sycamore
Lionel Barrymore ... Grandpa Martin Vanderhof
James Stewart ... Tony Kirby
Edward Arnold ... Anthony P. Kirby
Mischa Auer ... Boris Kolenkhov
Ann Miller ... Essie Carmichael
Spring Byington ... Penny Sycamore
Samuel S. Hinds ... Paul Sycamore
Donald Meek ... Poppins
H. B. Warner ... Ramsey
Halliwell Hobbes ... DePinna
Dub Taylor ... Ed Carmichael
Mary Forbes ... Mrs. Anthony P. Kirby
Lillian Yarbo ... Rheba
Eddie Anderson ... Donald
Charles Lane ... Wilbur G. Henderson, IRS agent
Harry Davenport ... the Night Court Judge
Ward Bond ... detective (unbilled)


Director ... Frank Capra
Producer ... Frank Capra
Screenplay ...Robert Riskin
Story by ... George Kaufman, Moss Hart
Music ... Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography ... Joseph Walker
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date ... August 23, 1938
Running time ... 126 minutes

Academy Awards

Two Wins:
Best Picture ... Frank Capra
Best Director ... Frank Capra
Five Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Supporting Actress ... Spring Byington,
Best Writing, Screenplay ...Robert Riskin
Best Cinematography ... Joseph Walker
Best Film Editing ... Gene Havlick
Best Sound, Recording ... John P. Livadary