You Can’t Take It with You (1938)

It’s August, which means it’s time for another theme month.  This time, I’m going to look at mental health through the decades.  I work in the mental health field – tangentially, at least – so I feel like I know just enough to make random declarations about the subject, though not necessarily enough to discuss real issues.

I’ll also mention here that I actually watched this movie months ago, and wrote this post back then with the intention of pairing it with something else that never panned out.  I do, however, think it’s worthwhile including it here because most people would consider that a group of people who are not all related living together in a house, not making any money, doing whatever random creative thing comes to mind to be crazy.  There.  I said it.

Ah, the screwball comedy.  They don’t make ‘em like they used to.  Actually, I’m not sure they make movies like this at all anymore.  Comedies?  Sure.  Romantic comedies?  Obvs.  Eccentric characters?  Well, yes.  Zany, seemingly unrelated plot points that somehow all fit together at the end?  All right, all right.  Even still, today’s comedies don’t seem remotely similar to the screwball comedies of the past (based on my limited experience).

Maybe it’s just a generational thing.  I can’t help but note that this movie came out in the midst of the Great Depression.  The plot is simple yet complicated – two people fall in love and try to reconcile their wildly different families, one made of wealthy business owners always after a deal, and the other a group of eccentrics who’ve decided to focus on their own artistic passions.  The winning message is to follow your heart instead of a dollar sign.  Easy for you to say, Grandpa.  I got rent to pay.  And student loans.

I’ve come to realize that I resist stories like this, that seem realistic on the surface but also feature characters like Mr. Poppins (which, first of all, nobody’s actually named Mr. Poppins), who abandons his job on a whim to carry out his lifelong dream of making stuffed rabbits.  Or the stately Russian ballet instructor who hangs out with all the other weird people who in turn are hanging out doing random things and somehow also make enough money to live off of.  I prefer my realism to be genuinely realistic and fully separated from my fantasy stories about time travel and magic and mutated amphibians trained in martial arts.  What good is entertainment, after all, if it can’t be neatly categorized and either exactly like life or nothing like it?

I wish YCTIWY offered more of a middle ground – their solution seems to be that you can only be happy if you reject the trappings of finance and indulge in a life of whimsical pursuits.  Art is a great, important thing, but we also need some structure.  Grandpa wonders what paying income tax does for him (not as footloose and ignorant of money as he thinks, then, eh?) while promoting the neighborhood community spirit.  And somehow, he owns a house in an extremely popular location without much explanation as to how it fell into his unemployed hands.

I remember reading the play on which this film is based back in high school, maybe 9th or 10th grade English.  I don’t recall the specifics of it – though the most important bit is pretty much in the title.  But it does bring back my sense of frustration at our exposure to theater in school.  This was one of the most modern plays we read, except perhaps The Glass Menagerie.  Most of my memories of those plays were sheer confusion.  There were references to contemporary things that I didn’t understand (who the hell were Porgy and Bess, and how is it pronounced? one might wonder when asked to read such a thing aloud).  Somehow, I got it into my head that drama ceased to exist after 1950.  Theater felt like some relic from the past that nobody did anymore.

I hope that’s not the case for kids learning about drama today.  If the only choices are Shakespeare or Kaufman and Hart, no wonder young people find it hard to relate to theater.  Which is not to say that there’s anything wrong with them, but it’d be nice to see something a little more approachable.  The kids these days should be watching HamiltonI should be watching Hamilton.

 

Theme:  Mental Health

Diagnosis:  Zaniness?

First Time Watching?  Maybe, but not first time reading the play.

Final Verdict:  Life is running around inside of me like a squirrel.

It Happened One Night (1934)

 

Without knowing anything about the film except its title, I probably would have placed this in the genre of those 50’s science fiction-y flicks with the Claymation monsters.  You know, the sort that would be parodied on Mystery Science Theater 3000 or something.  It Came From Outer SpaceIt’s AliveIt Happened One Night.

I mean, what is “It,” anyway?  (It’s it.)  How do I interpret this vaguest of pronouns in any way other than a hook-handed man scratching at the side of the bus that Ellie and Peter are riding… TO THEIR DEATH!  The only other alternative is that “It” refers to sexytimes, although nighttime is the traditional time for It to happen.  They’d probably be happier in the long term if It Happened more than One Night.  In fairness, though, they seem to have found a way to keep things kinky in the bedroom with their use of ropes and trumpets.

To briefly summarize, this film is not about an unearthly creature who creeps into a placid seaside town and eats everybody.  It’s actually about a couple that fall in love.  Ellie is the daughter of a ridiculously rich guy (who at one point offers someone $100,000 as a throwaway reward, and this is in the middle of the Depression).  She’s married some guy she just met and jumps off a yacht to run away and join him forever.  Meanwhile, another guy, Peter, is a journalist who’s looking for a big scoop, and apparently journalism was slightly classier back then than it is today, because he thinks it’s a good idea to write about how he fell in love with this missing society girl.

I don’t know if this is the first film that falls into the genre of romantic comedy, but even if not the very first, it’s interesting to see the origins of what’s become pretty much cliché these days.  The man and woman who have a mostly antagonistic relationship and suddenly realize that the chafing feeling is actually love.  There’s usually another man (not often another woman, oddly) who initially seems a good fit but eventually turns out to have some fatal flaw.  And of course, there are the moments where the lady and man-friend are forced into some uncomfortable intimacy before they’re ready for it.  Pick any romantic comedy you’ve seen, and I’m sure you’d find one of these tropes.

I’ve never seen a romance set on a Greyhound bus, though.  I’ve ridden a fair number of buses in my day, and I don’t recall ever meeting anyone remotely sexy.  Also, I spent the first half of the film really stressing out about the bus.  What was it like riding a bus in the 30s?  Did they even have a highway system back then?  I thought the interstate highways were set up in the 1950s.  How long of a trip was that from Miami to New York?  Were there even any bathrooms on the bus, and how the hell did that work?  If that part in the back where Ellie and Peter sat was right next to the bathroom, wouldn’t it have smelled so disgustingly that neither of them could have even fallen asleep, let alone in love?

Finally, I’ve heard that song “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze” all my life, and never knew where it came from.  It doesn’t seem to have originated in this movie, but I’m sure that’s what has kept it popular enough in the modern age for me to have heard it, even without ever having seen the movie before.  Strange the way certain things manage to last.

 

Theme:  Classic Romantic Comedy

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  And the walls came tumbling down