My dear sir, don’t you know that a sycamore IS a tree?

Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur

You Can’t Take it With You (1938)

Starring Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur, and director Frank Capra in their first collaboration together (the second one being Mr Smith Goes to Washington), this is a fun, quirky romp with a moral: the love of friends and family is more important than all the money you can make in a lifetime.

Lionel Barrymore portrays the patriarchal Grandpa Vanderhof, beloved by all and principled in his belief that you should spend your life doing whatever it is you want to do, as long as you’re having fun doing it. Well, in today’s world, this is much easier said than done, but we’ll take his word for it. And I’m not sure how Alice ended up working as a bank stenographer if she followed this mantra, but that’s beside the point. Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur were aged 30 and 38 at the time of filming, respectively, but totally believable as our young star-crossed lovers – the early scenes where they can’t keep their eyes (and hands!) off each other are completely adorable, even though Jimmy Stewart’s clothes are entirely too big for him.

The film starts off business-like and serious in nature with Kirby Sr. and his Wall Street wheeling and dealing, but devolves into a playful, even childish lark as we are introduced to the Vanderhof clan and their peculiar ways, including Alice and Tony Jr.’s date / dance in the park and subsequent appearance at a society dinner that quickly dissolves into hilarious chaos. It’s because of this light-hearted camaraderie that we so easily believe that Alice and Tony belong together, and root for their relationship throughout the rest of the movie.

You Can't Take It With You cast

After a disastrous meet-the-parents dinner (I must admit, it was a bit rude for Tony to bring his parents on the wrong night in hopes of catching the Vanderhofs at their finest), the situation rapidly unravels, ending up with everyone in jail on charges of disturbing the peace. Grandpa uncharacteristically loses his temper and tells Kirby Sr. what he really thinks of the empire he has built, thus providing the voice of conscience for the film (“You can’t take it with you Mr. Kirby, so what good is it? As near as I can see, the only thing you can take with you is the love of your friends.”) The Kirbys are represented by their four – yes, four – lawyers in front of an incredibly soft judge, while the Vanderhofs are fined $100, which is paid for in a poignant scene by all of the Vanderhofs’ friends and neighbors eagerly pitching in.

I have to hand it to Alice, who was original slightly ashamed of her family’s quirks, begging her mother to hide everything before the Kirbys were to arrive, but eventually stood up for herself and her family’s odd nature, declaring that she wouldn’t stand for such scrutiny and that she now deemed Tony to not be good enough for her! Woo hoo!! She rushes from the courtroom in tears, and we later learn that she has fled the state to avoid the press. Ah, the good old days, when we could just leave the country to deal with our humiliation… now it follows us around everywhere in the form of TwitPics and snarky Facebook comments.

However, we end on a happy note: Kirby Sr. is shaken by his son’s refusal of the company presidency, as well as a former colleague’s heart failure, which provides a warning to Kirby Sr. as to how he might end up if he continues down this path. He walks out on his important business deal, makes his way to the Vanderhof house, and is convinced to play a spirited harmonica duet with Grandpa. Alice and Tony, who were fighting upstairs, hear the joyful ruckus and cautiously, almost unbelievingly, approach the duo. Kirby Sr. silently nods his consent regarding Alice and Tony’s relationship, all is forgiven, and we close on a slightly awkward but welcoming family dinner where Grandpa says grace and gives his thanks. And so do we – thank you, Mr. Capra and company, for the cinematic equivalent of a warm hug.

So without further ado, let’s get to Cocktails #1 and #2 – paired to represent the clash of two classes (or schools of thought) coming together.

Cocktail #1: Wealth & Riches

This cocktail is actually known as the Champs Elysees, and it’s as velvety smooth as a mink coat, with strong citrus and Chartreuse notes to remind you of how much its trust fund is worth. And the fancy-schmancy European moniker of the original recipe from Speakeasy Cocktails doesn’t hurt either.

  • 1 & 1/2 oz cognac
  • 1/2 oz green Chartreuse
  • 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 simple syrup
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • garnish: maraschino cherry

Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a coupe glass and add garnish.

Ahh… pure affluence in a glass. It goes down easy and feels as good in your hand as a stack of Benjamins, but watch out – one too many and you’ll be ordering someone to fetch you a “bicarbonate of soda”.

Cocktail #2: Friends & Family

Adapted from this Bar None recipe. I was originally looking for a cocktail with Goldschlager in it, to represent the wealth and riches side of the scale, and came across this beauty. I swapped out the Goldschlager for Fireball and ended up with something special.

  • 2 oz cranberry juice
  • 1 oz Fireball
  • 1/2 oz amaretto (we found a bottle of Lazzaroni – “the only Amaretto made from an infusion of the famous Amaretti di Saronno cookies, rather than from an essence”, and boy does it make a difference!)
  • 1/2 oz dry curaçao
  • 1 oz ginger ale
  • garnish: maraschino cherry

Shake all ingredients (except ginger ale) in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a coupe glass, top with ginger ale, and add garnish.

The blazing warmth of the Fireball and the aromatic sweetness of the amaretto envelop your tongue like the cozy embrace of a beloved friend or family member. Let it wash over you and fill your soul.

While this movie does depict two rather extreme ends of the scale (Kirby Sr. lists “business” as his hobby, and the Vanderhofs live in such a carefree and overly generous manner that I’m not quite sure I buy the claim that all ten of them are making ends meet just by selling candy and fireworks or appraising stamps), it’s still a delightful film and I wouldn’t hesitate to watch it again in a few years. Maybe when I’m slaving away at a late-night Power Point for work and need a reminder of the important things in life, like dancing the Big Apple or trying to figure out why the grass is green.

“This would be a fine country if we all spent our time at the zoo and played the harmonica.”

You Can't Take It With You cast