Capra was a superstar Hollywood director in the 1930s. He had a string of
critically-acclaimed and successful pictures after joining Columbia Pictures
and elevating the studio from “poverty row” to a force that competed with the
big leagues. Two of Capra’s Columbia movies won the Oscar for Best Picture, and
Capra became the first filmmaker to win the Oscar for Best Director three times, all within five years. You Can’t Take it With You was Capra’s
second Best Picture winner and his third Best Director achievement.
his films have been called “Capra-corn,” because they are usually steeped in
Americana, explore themes of social class inequality, feature casts of
eccentric—but lovable—protagonists and greedy, heartless villains, and contain stories
about the Everyman’s struggle against the Establishment. Capra was also one of
the developers of the screwball comedy, in which mismatched couples, usually
from different social classes, fall in and out and back in love.
You Can’t Take It
With You was
based on the Broadway play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, which was still
playing in New York when the film opened. It’s a story with Capra’s classic oddball
characters—this time a whole family of them—and their clash with the moneybags
banking world (a hot topic in the Depression-weary 1930s).
Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore) is the patriarch of a poor but extremely happy freedom-loving
houseful of misfits that include his daughter Penny (Spring Byington as a pulp
writer and painter) and her husband (Samuel S. Hinds, a maker of fireworks),
his granddaughter Essie (a very young Ann Miller as a would-be ballerina taking
lessons from a mad Russian instructor played by Mischa Auer) and her husband Ed
(Dub Taylor as a vibraphone player and printer), a couple of other hangers-on
who create things in the basement (Donald Meek and Halliwell Hobbes), and the
obligatory comic African-American maid and butler (Lillian Yarbo and Eddie
“Rochester” Anderson). Oh, and then there’s the other granddaughter, Alice
(Jean Arthur), who is relatively normal and works as a secretary in the big
bank building owned and run by “A.P.” Kirby (Edward Arnold), who wants to buy
Grandpa’s house and land so that he can develop on it. Grandpa is the only
holdout in the area and refuses to sell. The complication comes when Alice and
Kirby’s son Tony (James Stewart, in his first major role and first for Capra) fall
in love and want to marry. Socialite Mrs. Kirby (Mary Forbes) disapproves with
such viciousness that she practically
becomes the real villain of the piece.
the Capra ingredients are all there—odd and funny characters, a conflict
between upper and lower classes, and a screwball romance. Add in a healthy dose
of Americana songs like “Polly Wolly Doodle” and you have a classic that in
many ways still resonates today as a cautionary tale of greed. As the title
states, you can’t take your money with you when you’re gone, so you might as
well have fun and not worry about it while you’re here on earth.
performances are first rate all around (although Byington received the only
Oscar nomination, for Supporting Actress), and the adaptation by Robert Riskin
is superb (despite radical changes to the third act of the play). There are
some very funny moments, such as when the Kirbys come to the Vanderhof home for
dinner on the wrong night, causing the nutty household to spring into action to
accommodate them. Familiar-face Harry Davenport has a wonderful comic turn as a
night court judge when everyone is thrown into the drunk tank for disorderly
conduct and illegal manufacture of fireworks.
yet, of Capra’s most well-known pictures of the 30s (It Happened One Night, Mr.
Deeds Goes to Town, Lost Horizon,
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and
this one), You Can’t Take It With You is
perhaps the weakest. The problem is that it’s too long, at times ponderous, and
it takes a while to get going. I do question whether or not it really was the
Best Picture of 1938—other nominees such as The
Adventures of Robin Hood, Grand
Illusion, and Boys Town may have
been more deserving. And yet, You Can’t
Take It With You is still a very good time at the movies.
new Blu-ray release is outstanding. The film was fully restored and mastered in
4K (1080p high definition) and looks marvelous. There’s not a blemish to
behold, and the grain is welcome. The audio is Mono DTS-HD MA with several
languages from which to choose. Supplements include an audio commentary by
Frank Capra, Jr. and author Cathrine Kellison that is well-informed and
entertaining. A 25-minute documentary, “Frank Capra, Jr. Remembers...You Can’t Take It With You” features
Capra’s son and others talking about the history behind the making of the film.
The original theatrical trailer is included, and the hard-case inner booklet
features a comprehensive and studious essay by film historian Jeremy Arnold.
line—it’s a must for cinephiles, Capra fans, Jimmy Stewart enthusiasts, and
lovers of glorious black and white. Enjoy it... while you can.
Rudolph has had an interesting Hollywood career. He was a protégé
of Robert Altman, for whom he worked as assistant director, and then went on to
write and direct his own oeuvre of
quirky, art-house pictures for four decades. Like Altman’s films, they are ensemble productions often using a stock
company of actors. Stylistically, though, they are much more lyrical, almost
pretentiously arty. Thematic elements in Rudolph’s movies nearly always involve
romanticism and fantasy, and the good ones such as Welcome to L.A. (see Cinema Retro review), Remember My Name, Choose Me, Made in Heaven,and Trouble
in Mind,were critically acclaimed
and modestly successful.
Love at Large, unfortunately, is
not one of the good ones. The movie seems to be in search of a story as it
follows private investigator Harry Dobbs (Tom Berenger, mugging a lot and using
an odd, gravelly voice) on a bigamy case, but the path is really a labyrinth of
possible love affairs for nearly all of the main characters. While Harry’s in
the process of breaking up with his current girlfriend (Ann Magnuson), he meets
a hot client (Anne Archer, whose beauty does not make up for the extremely
mannered performance of a “mysterious dame”) with whom there’s a chance at some
hanky panky. He’s also in competition with a feisty, sarcastic female private
eye named Stella (Elizabeth Perkins, who delivers the most believable and
honest performance in the movie), with whom Harry just might be in love. Each
of the women also has her own individual journey of seeking romance. It’s all
on the level of a soap opera.
was experimenting with this one, and the result doesn’t really work. It
attempts to be a movie about relationships and the “meaning of love” (a
favorite topic of Rudolph’s) overlain with a highly stylized neo-noir detective plot—a lighter Trouble in Mind, perhaps. The problem is
that the noir aspects, and the case
Harry is investigating—cries out to be much more than it is. If it had been a further
developed, gritty crime plot that actually elicited suspense, the picture might
have jelled. Furthermore, the hunt-for-love story, really the backbone of the
movie, resolves abruptly and unsatisfactorily for three of the five sets of
couples involved. With the sometimes laughable performances and the odd tone
with which the actors have been directed, Large
at Large is a head scratcher. It might have been much better in the concept
stage, but the movie doesn’t realize its potential.
said, the writer/director’s permeating quirkiness is interesting enough to
warrant a viewing. And any movie that
casts rocker Neil Young as Archer’s sinister and violent boyfriend is worth
seeing for the novelty factor. (Ted Levine, Annette O’Toole, and Kate Capshaw
also appear in the picture, completing the list of familiar movie faces from
the late 1980s.)
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray of Love at Large looks very good with its colorful Oregon countryside
locations and Portland bars and hotels. The transfer is clean and blemish-free.
There are no supplements on the disc other than trailers of other Kino Lorber
when everyone thought director Brian De Palma’s work couldn’t get more
controversial than 1983’s Scarface,
out came 1984’s Body Double, which
was simultaneously praised and reviled. Just as they had with 1980’s Dressed to Kill, feminist groups
protested Double with even more
vitriol due to the picture’s perceived violence against women. Many critics and
audiences dismissed the movie as merely a small step above porn, given the fact
that much of the plot does deal with Hollywood’s “other industry” that was soaring
to new heights in the mid-80s thanks to the rise of home video and VHS. And
yet, Body Double is now a certified
cult classic, a De Palma fan favorite, and, frankly, in this reviewer’s
opinion, one of his most accomplished and stylish efforts.
working in full Hitchcock Homage Mode, De Palma borrowed some of the plot of Vertigo, in which a killer uses a
look-alike woman to fool our hapless and naive protagonist into believing the
lady is someone else. With Pino Donaggio’s lush orchestral score accompanying
the action, one is indeed reminded of Bernard Herrmann’s romanticism from that
1958 film. The suspense is plotted and paced in the manner of the Master of
Suspense, and the picture also contains much of Hitch’s penchant for dark humor
Wasson (remember him?) plays Jake, a struggling Hollywood actor who is recently
separated from a cheating wife. He’s also claustrophobic, which of course plays
into the plot. He meets another actor, Sam (Gregg Henry) at an audition; Sam
graciously allows Jake to house-sit at a fancy home in the hills while Sam goes
on tour. The bonus for Jake is the eye candy that can be viewed with a
telescope—every night, a woman across the way performs a tantalizing striptease
in a window. Jake falls for the woman (former Miss USA, Deborah Shelton) and he
also unwittingly witnesses her brutal murder.
Holly Body, a porn star (winningly played by Melanie Griffith in one of her
first major roles), who might be somehow involved with the killing. Naturally,
Jake sets out to solve the crime and insinuates himself into Holly’s world in
order to do so. As we learn on the disc’s supplements, De Palma had considered
casting a real porn star in the part—but Hollywood would have turned its back
on him. Griffith convinced him that she could
do the required “moves,” and her casting is a revelation.
this is a story about voyeurism and victims, reality and illusion, truth and
trickery. Hitchcock often explored the same themes; in De Palma’s hands, Body Double becomes an exercise in visual
style and storyline thrills. It’s also a scathing and humorous poke in the eye
at Hollywood itself, especially the world of cutthroat auditioning and casting.
film is very explicit; apparently De Palma once again had to fight the censors
for the film to receive an “R” rating. Griffith unabashedly did her own nude
scenes, even the celebrated peep-show dance through the telescope (which is set
to Donaggio’s mesmerizing trace music).
Body Double got an extra
publicity boost with the inclusion of the hit song “Relax” by Frankie Goes to
Hollywood; a music video running regularly on MTV at the time contained tied-in
clips from the film.
Time’s Blu-ray looks and sounds fabulous. Stephen H. Burum’s cinematography is lavish
and colorful, very conducive to the HD format (1080p). Shot in and around
Hollywood, the locations are familiar, such as scenes in the famous restaurant,
Barney’s Beanery on Santa Monica Boulevard, the Beverly Center, and the Rodeo
Collection mall on Rodeo Drive.
include four well-done featurettes on the making of the film, with interviews
with De Palma, Griffith, Shelton, and Dennis Franz, who plays a film director
molded on De Palma himself. There’s also an isolated score track; Pino Donaggio
collaborated several times with De Palma—Body
Double may be his best team-up with the filmmaker. The audio is 5.1 DTS-HD
Time’s release of Body Double is
limited to 3000 copies.
(Note: this title is sold out at the Twilight Time web site. However, it is available from dealers on both Amazon and eBay.)
year 1948 was the pinnacle for film noir in
America, although this style of crime picture would continue for at least
another decade. Yes, it’s a style, not a genre. For the most part it was also
an unconscious style, for the filmmakers who brought us film noir had no idea they were making “film noir”—it wasn’t until the late 1950s that a bunch of French
critics coined the term after looking back at this strange, cynical, dark breed
of crime stories.
Pitfall is a corker, and
while it’s certainly a movie about a crime and contains many of the film noir trademarks such as a femme fatale, a jaded protagonist,
brutal violence (for the time), high contrast photography of light and shadow,
an urban setting, and unstable alliances, it’s really a movie about the hazards
Powell plays Johnny, a bored insurance adjuster in Los Angeles who is looking
for a little excitement in his dull and monotonous life, even though he has a
devoted wife (Jane Wyatt) and young son. Enter fashion model Mona, played by Lizabeth
Scott—the actress who starred in more film
noir pictures than anyone else—who is not really a bad girl but is
certainly an enticement. She is the femme
fatale—a woman who will lead an otherwise good man to his downfall, but to
her credit she doesn’t particularly set out to do so. Her former boyfriend,
Smiley, is in jail for embezzlement, and Johnny is assigned to recover as much
of the money as he can from the “gifts” Smiley gave to Mona. Instead, he falls
a crooked private detective, Mac (played with sinister creepiness by Raymond
Burr), has also fallen for Mona, and he’ll do anything to get her—even if she
wants nothing to do with him. Thus, the plot becomes a love triangle of sorts,
with poor Jane Wyatt clueless as to what is going on. Then things get trickier
when Smiley gets out of jail.
Lizabeth Scott is the object of Raymond Burr's unwanted attentions in "Pitfall".
are terrific all around, but kudos must especially be given to Scott. She was a
competitor of Lauren Bacall, Barbara Stanwyck, Rita Hayworth, and others who
specialized in playing smoky hot dames; and while Scott never became a superstar,
she is certainly admired by film noir fans
as being perhaps the leading femme fatale of all time. With her husky
voice, a body that won’t quit, the blonde hair, and the bedroom eyes, who
wouldn’t fall for Lizabeth Scott? Powell’s Johnny may be making a huge and
terrible mistake, but he’s a heterosexual male primed for temptation. And that seems to be the point of Pitfall—we all make errors in judgment
because that’s the downside of being human. In the end, though, it’s Scott for
whom we feel the sorriest.
Lorber’s new release is mastered in high definition from a 35mm dupe negative
preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. It looks very good, but it’s
not pristine. An entertaining and informative audio commentary by film noir expert Eddie Muller is a
welcome addition. Otherwise the only other supplements are trailers for other
Kino Lorber releases.
line—Lizabeth Scott fans shouldn’t miss this one and film noir enthusiasts will most likely want to add it to their