(director: Frank Capra; screenwriter: from the play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart/Robert Riskin; cinematographer: Joseph Walker; editor: Gene Havlick; music: Dimitri Tiomkin ; cast: Jean Arthur (Alice Sycamore), Lionel Barrymore (Grandpa Martin Vanderhof), James Stewart (Tony Kirby), Edward Arnold (Anthony P. Kirby), Mischa Auer (Boris Kolenkhov), Ann Miller (Essie Carmichael), Spring Byington (Penny Sycamore), Samuel S. Hinds (Paul Sycamore), Mary Forbes (Mrs. Anthony P. Kirby), Donald Meek (Poppins), Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson (Donald), Dub Taylor (Ed Carmichael), Halliwell Hobbes (DePinna), Charles Lane (Wilbur G. Henderson, IRS Agent), Halliwell Hobbes (DePinna), Clarence Wilson (John Blakely); Runtime: 127; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Frank Capra; Columbia TriStar Home Video; 1938)

“The usual sentimental corny uplifting melodrama from director Frank Capra.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The usual sentimental corny uplifting melodrama from director Frank Capra (“It Happened One Night “/”Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”). It’s based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning hit Broadway play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart and is written by Robert Riskin. The film, though considerably changed from the play into a warmer hymn to populism, still retains some of its hilarious moments while offering a homespun slice of wholesome Americana. It tells of the gentle son of a snooty banker (Jimmy Stewart) who wants to marry his secretary (Jean Arthur), who is from an eccentric family. It won best-picture and best-director Oscars.

Martin “Grandpa” Vanderhof’s (Lionel Barrymore) ‘utopian’ house becomes the focus of the story line. Grandpa has dropped out of the rat race some time ago and he now lives by the credo of doing your own thing in life no matter what others may say or think. His family also follows that credo: his aspiring playwright daughter Penny Sycamore (Spring Byington) writes terrible plays after receiving by accident a typewriter eight years ago; her husband Paul (Samuel S. Hinds) constructs fireworks in the cellar, never having grown up; Penny’s daughter Essie Carmichael (Ann Miller) performs ballet badly while her former Alabama University football player husband Ed (Dub Taylor) plays the xylophone to accompany her dancing, and, in Martin’s case for rebellion, he slides down a banister and breaks his leg, which is also perceived as being cool. Money is not their driving force, but living a rich personal life is. But their way of life is threatened by ruthless banker Anthony P. Kirby (Edward Arnold), who attempts to buy up their entire residential area where he wants to build a new factory to force his factory owner munition competitor, Ramsey, out of business and he will have the munitions monopoly. The Vanderhof’s are the only ones who refuse to sell and thereby save the neighborhood, as the deal can’t go through without them. By coincidence, Vanderhof’s granddaughter, Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur), the sanest one in the family, is the secretary to Kirby’s son, Anthony Kirby, Jr. (Jimmy Stewart, 30 at the time), who is the young vice president of his father’s firm. Alice and Anthony plan to marry. Tony’s snobbish mother (Mary Forbes) rails against the marriage due to class differences. The film’s highlight is when the two opposite families meet for a memorable dinner gathering. The Kirby family comes a night early, as Tony causes the mix up because he wants his parents to see the family as they are rather have them put on a false front.

It’s all “Polly-Wolly-Doodle,” as Barrymore can’t stop making speeches about how virtuous he is and nasty tycoon Arnold proves by the conclusion he has a heart when it comes to his son’s happiness. Capra’s simplistic notions of good versus evil just have no bite or show any radical stance against corporate greed. The hamfisted lecture on the virtues of the common people and the happy ending were not convincing and much too contrived.