You Can't Take It With You (1938)



Critic Consensus: It's predictably uplifting fare from Frank Capra, perhaps the most consciously uplifting of all great American directors -- but thanks to immensely appealing performances and a nimble script, You Can't Take It With You is hard not to love.

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Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman's whimsical Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play +You Can't Take It With You was transformed into a paean to populism by director Frank Capra and screenwriter Robert Riskin. This is the story of the zany Sycamore household, presided over by Grandpa Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore), a former businessman who has turned his back on commerce to enjoy life. At the Sycamores', everyone does just what he or she pleases. Penny Sycamore (Spring Byington), Grandpa's daughter, has become a novelist because someone delivered a typewriter to her home by mistake. Penny's husband makes firecrackers in his basement with the help of Mr. DePinna (Halliwell Hobbes), an iceman who showed up at the Sycamore doorstep one day and never left. Their daughter, Essie (Ann Miller), imagines that she's a prima ballerina, even though her dour teacher, Boris (Mischa Auer), assesses her work with, "Confidentially, it steenks!" Essie's husband, Ed (Dub Taylor), who'd rather play a xylophone than work, spends his free time selling Essie's candy, wrapping each package in paper from a used printing press that dispenses anarchistic slogans. The one normal member of the household is Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur), in love with wealthy Tony Kirby (James Stewart). Naturally, when the stuffy, aristocratic Kirbys come to the Sycamores' for dinner, the event is a disaster, capped with the arrest of everyone in the household. Hart and Kaufman's third act found the previously judgmental Kirby softening his attitude toward the freewheeling Sycamore clan, admitting that he's never had so much fun in his life. Screenwriter Riskin altered the focus of the play by throwing out the third act and concentrating upon Tony Kirby's father, Kirby Sr., who as played by Edward Arnold is transformed from a stock stuffed shirt into a ruthless, grasping tycoon, eager to buy up every house on the Sycamores' block to make room for a munitions plant. The film thus became the story of Kirby's regeneration at the hands of the carefree Sycamores. Enough of the play's screwball elements are retained to compensate for Riskin's speechifying and plot distortions (though the softening of one of the play's vital ingredients, Grandpa's refusal to pay his income tax, borders on the sacrilegious). You Can't Take It With You earned several Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director (Capra's third Oscar).
Classics , Comedy , Romance
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
Columbia Pictures

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Jean Arthur
as Alice Sycamore
Lionel Barrymore
as Martin Vanderhof
James Stewart
as Tony Kirby
Edward Arnold
as Anthony P. Kirby
Mischa Auer
as Kolenkhov
Ann Miller
as Essie Carmichael
Samuel S. Hinds
as Paul Sycamore
Spring Byington
as Penny Sycamore
Donald Meek
as Poppins
H.B. Warner
as Ramsey
Dub Taylor
as Ed Carmichael
Mary Forbes
as Mrs. Anthony Kirby
Clarence H. Wilson
as John Blakely
Clarence Wilson
as John Blakely
Josef Swickard
as Professor
Ann Doran
as Maggie O'Neill
Christian Rub
as Schmidt
Bodil Rosing
as Mrs. Schmidt
Charles Lane
as Henderson
Dorothy Babbs
as Dance Teacher
Pierre Watkin
as Attorney
Edwin Maxwell
as Attorney
Russell Hicks
as Attorney
Byron Foulger
as Kirby's Assistant
James Flavin
as Jailer
Ian Wolfe
as Kirby's Secretary
Chester Clute
as Hammond
Pert Kelton
as Inmate
Kit Guard
as Inmate
James Burke
as Detective
Ward Bond
as Detective
Edward Hearn
as Court Attendant
Edward Keane
as Board member
Dick Curtis
as Strong arm man
John Ince
as Neighbor
Wallis Clark
as Hughes
Paul Irving
as Office Manager
Eddie Kane
as Kirby's Attorney
Gene Morgan
as Reporter
Lou Davis
as Reporter
Lester Dorr
as Reporter
William Arnold
as Reporter
Jack Gardner
as Reporter
Bill Dill
as Reporter
Bill Lally
as Reporter
Stanley Andrews
as Attorney
Walter Walker
as Mr. Leach
Robert Greig
as Lord Melville
Edwin Stanley
as Executive
Edward Earle
as Bank Manager
Lawrence Wheat
as Secretary
Boyd Irwin
as Attorney
Pat West
as Expressman
John Hamilton
as Capt. Drake
Margaret Mann
as Neighbor
Laura Treadwell
as Mrs. Drake
Doris Rankin
as Mrs. Leach
Hilda Plowright
as Lady Melville
Jim Farley
as Police Sergeant
Edgar Dearing
as Plainclothes policeman
Lee Phelps
as Bailiff
James Millican
as Policeman
Bud Wiser
as Policeman
Jack Grant
as Policeman
Bruce Mitchell
as Policeman
Vernon Dent
as Expressman
Roland DuPree
as Dancer
Edward Peil Sr.
as Neighbor
Dorothy Babb
as Dancer
Gloria Browne
as Dancer
Patty Thomas
as Dancer
Anne Cornwall
as Blakely's Secretary
Larry Wheat
as Secretary
Sam Harris
as Diner
Frank Mills
as Trustee
Nick Copeland
as Barber
Alex Woloshin
as Russian General in Jail
Dick Rush
as Bank Guard
Jimmy Anderson
as Bank Porter
Dick French
as Bank Clerk
Carlie Taylor
as Bank Clerk
Bruce Sidney
as Bank Clerk
Harry B. Stafford
as Bank Clerk
Arthur Murray
as Elevator Boy
Joe Bordeaux
as Taxi Driver
Mario Rotolo
as Accordion Player
Dutch Hendrian
as Ice Man
Nell Craig
as Woman
Nell Roy
as Woman
Kay Deslys
as Woman
Frank Austin
as Neighbor (uncredited)
Harry A. Bailey
as Neighbor (uncredited)
Beatrice Blinn
as Neighbor (uncredited)
Beatrice Curtis
as Neighbor (uncredited)
Howard Davies
as Neighbor (uncredited)
Betty Farrington
as Neighbor (uncredited)
Eddie Featherston
as Worried Neighbor (uncredited)
Bess Flowers
as Martin's Neighbor in Courtroom (uncredited)
Joe "Corky" Geil
as Child Dancer (uncredited)
Eva McKenzie
as Neighbor (uncredited)
Stella LeSaint
as Neighbor (uncredited)
Bessie Wade
as Neighbor (uncredited)
Dorothy Vernon
as Neighbor (uncredited)
James Farley
as Police Sergeant
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Critic Reviews for You Can't Take It With You

All Critics (32) | Top Critics (7)

The comedy moves smoothly and briskly under Capra's canny method of direction.

Full Review… | February 18, 2015
New York Daily News
Top Critic

It's a grand picture.

Full Review… | January 13, 2014
New York Times
Top Critic

Easily the No. 1 cinema comedy of 1938.

Full Review… | February 17, 2009
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

The tempo is generally fast and there are no sudden spurts or sharp letdowns.

Full Review… | February 20, 2008
Top Critic

The cast is appealing, particularly Stewart and Arthur, but it's not enough.

Full Review… | February 8, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

There are still some laughs and entertainment to be found here, but forget about fidelity to the original.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for You Can't Take It With You


A son of a business magnate proposes to a lower class girl whose eccentric family stands in the way of business's progress. Frank Capra is a legendary director, and everybody loves him. But I don't. I didn't like It's a Wonderful Life mostly because it isn't. I didn't like Mr Smith Goes to Washington mostly because it was overly simplistic. And "You Can't Take It with You is so remarkably preachy that I found myself rolling my eyes so often I soon developed a headache. I'm essentially politically aligned with Capra's left-wing compassion, but the characters seem more motivated by the director's political arguments than they are motivated by specific characterizations or the story's demands. I also found the antics of the Sycamore household ridiculous. The ballet dancer, the Russian, the fireworks -- all of it just seems so off the wall that I had trouble suspending my disbelief, and once again, I rolled my eyes. Overall, I'm aware that I'm in the minority with my dislike for Capra, but I still think this film is great if you want to roll your eyes a lot

Jim Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

The well-born Tony Kirby (James Stewart) falls in love with Alice (Jean Arthur), whose family, the Sycamores, are eccentric, to say the least. Her maternal grandfather (Lionel Barrymore) supports a cast of inventors and dancers and always has one more place at his table for guests, no matter where they come from, while on the Kirby side, it's not acceptable to associate with anyone not of the upper crust. What else could this setup provide other than a lesson about the worth of one's name and reputation versus that of one's money? To this fable add some wacky comedy and some stirring speeches, and what you get is another working class classic from Frank Capra that's not to be missed.

Daniel Perry
Daniel Perry

Super Reviewer


This is Frank Capra's Oscar winning adaptation of a play about a family who helps show a wealthy financier that there's much more to life than money. Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur) is the only person in her eccentric family who seems rather normal. She falls in love with a nice young guy (James Stewart) whose parents are incredibly wealthy and don't approve of his relationship to Alice, nor his desire to marry her. Alice tries to change Tony's parents's minds by inviting the mto dinner, but, thanks to her family, things don't go as planned. All in all, this is typical Capra schmaltz: sentimental, charming, hard to really hate, and very populist. I enjoyed the film, but it's overrated, and maybe not necessarily deserving of Best Picture. The problem is not the message or the acting from an excellent cast (which includes a delightful Lionel Barrymore), but the execution. The first half is slow, meandering, and thigns don't really pick up or get interesting until the latter half. Even then, the film is predicatble, and doesn't really do anything new or groundbreaking. However, it is still pretty entertaining, well-meaning, and humorous, so, despite it's flaws, it's an old fashioned feel-good film worthy of a watch.

Chris Weber
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

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