You Can't Take It with You
DVD viewers can be forgiven for not being as familiar with Frank Capra's You Can't Take It With You as they might be with, say, It Happened One Night, It's a Wonderful Life, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Meet John Doe, or Arsenic and Old Lace. Those movies have been shown on television (at times to excess) for decades, and have also long been available on home video. You Can't Take It With You -- which won the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director in 1938 -- by contrast, was out of distribution for most of the 1970s and '80s, and didn't come to home video until the early '90s. Columbia Pictures' rights to the George S. Kaufman/Moss Hart play from which Capra's movie had been adapted had lapsed, and also had never included home-video distribution of the film. It was only in the late '80s that the studio got around to negotiating the rights to re-release and extend distribution of the movie; as a result, it's available now on DVD, but arrives in that format without having had the decades of television exposure needed to build its audience and reputation with a new generation (or two) of viewers. This is ironic, since, with its story of a free-spirited, iconoclastic family (led by Lionel Barrymore) battling bureaucrats, ham-fisted cops, and greedy businessmen in order to keep living as they do, and the seemingly mismatched marriage (for true love) between Jean Arthur's and James Stewart's characters, the movie was a natural for '60s and early '70s audiences. The movie holds up well over 60 years on; despite a 126-minute running time, Capra's pacing perfectly balances lyrical, romantic sections and rapid-fire screwball comedy. The source print is in very good condition, though a bit short of perfect, as there is a fair bit of grain and some minor loss of detail in the tougher-to-transfer scenes. Nothing looks substandard, but one wishes the movie had been preserved perfectly. The audio is a match for the video and perhaps even in a little better condition; the second half of the movie may look very slightly better overall than the first half, but, otherwise, the transfer is very smoothly done and constitutes the best presentation that this movie has received in decades, and is superior to the laserdisc edition in overall contrast and sharpness. The movie has been given a generous 28 chapters that are well labeled and well chosen. The disc opens on a simple two-layer menu with the "play" option in the default position and includes chapter and subtitle selections (English, French, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish) plus trailers to a handful of additional Columbia TriStar titles. The only real complaint is regarding what is not here. Other, much more familiar Capra films have appeared on DVD with commentary tracks by the director's son, Frank Capra Jr. Perhaps the least well known of Capra's major titles because of its later distribution problems, You Can't Take It With You, which offers a rich potential canvas (with a well-known play as its basis and several performers at the outset of their careers -- including Ann Miller, who was still around at the time of this DVD's release, and Dub Taylor, who passed away only a relatively short time before -- as well as a ton of Capra veterans and familiar faces), could have used a commentary track as well. It well might have justified contributions by Capra Jr., Miller, Moss Hart's widow Kitty Carlisle Hart, and perhaps a theater historian, among others. Considering that this is a movie that the studio had to make a special effort not too many years ago to release on home video, one might think that on that basis alone, a little extra effort on this end would have seemed justified.