I never thought I would see a Frank Capra film that I didn’t love. It is not that I hated You Can’t Take It with You or even disliked it, but with a cast including James Stewart, Lionel Barrymore and Jean Arthur, I was expecting a lot and was slightly disappointed. Capra’s usual writer Robert Riskin adapted the script from a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Maybe Riskin didn’t do enough to adapt this to the screen, because the result feels a rather stagey. The film runs 2 hours and 6 minutes and feels a bit longer, as the pacing is far too slow at times. I can’t really figure out why it was the highest grossing film in the US in 1938, a year of great movies. But of course between the doldrums there are moments of Capraesque brilliance.
James Stewart plays the son of a powerful banker who is not thrilled with the idea of carrying on the family business. He falls for Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur) the only relatively normal member of a family of eccentrics headed up by Lionel Barrymore, who everyone in the neighborhood calls Grandpa. In scene after scene, Capra drives home how wacky the Sycamore clan are, and these quickly lose their humor and become a bit grating. The really memorable moments come in the few scene between just Stewart and Arthur as they tell each other how crazy they are about each other, and when curmudgeonly Lionel Barrymore verbally spars with book clerks and IRS men until they run out the door in consternation or give up and join him and his motley crew.