Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 20
YCTIWY August 23, 1938
You Can't Take It With You Premieres

Frank Capra's remarkable run of smart, successful 1930s comedies continued with You Can't Take It With You, which had its premiere on this day in 1938. The movie was an adaptation of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's hit play of the same name, which was still in its initial run at the Booth Theatre in New York City when Capra's screen version was released, an impressive two years-plus after its debut performance on Broadway. A lively comedy about a love affair between a spoiled millionaire banker's son, Tony Kirby, and Alice Sycamore, a girl from a family whose house is full of oddball types who have left the rat race in order to follow their (often whimsical) dreams, the play was surprisingly provocative in its politics – many of the characters in the Sycamore residence could be described as anarchists or communists, with the patriarch Martin Vanderhof famously speaking out against paying taxes. Capra saw the Pulitzer Prize-winning play when his film Lost Horizon premiered in NYC in 1937, and although Columbia president Harry Cohn balked at the price of $200,000 he would have to pay for the screen rights, he agreed to stump up the cash – on the condition that Capra dropped a lawsuit against him for having falsely promoting the 1935 Jean Arthur vehicle If You Could Only Cook as a Capra movie. Capra assembled a great cast – Jean Arthur and James Stewart as the lovebirds, Lionel Barrymore as Martin Vanderhof, with Edward Arnold, Mischa Auer, Spring Byington, Ann Miller, Donald Meek and H.B. Warner in support – while Capra's regular screenwriter Robert Riskin turned in a sterling script. And though Cohn set up the film for Capra with gritted teeth, it all panned out in the end: You Can't Take It With You received excellent reviews, won Best Picture and Best Director at the 1938 Academy Awards, and earned over $5 million worldwide. The movie also marked the beginning of the fruitful partnership between Capra and Stewart that would continue with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and It's a Wonderful Life (1946).


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Harold and Maude Dec. 20, 1971
Harold and Maude Opens

Hal Ashby's iconic black comedy Harold and Maude opened in theaters on December 20, 1971.

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December 20, 1979
Bob Fosse's All That Jazz

For denizens of the New York theater scene, Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical All that Jazz provided them the guessing game of the season. What scandals was Fosse going to spill in his expose musical? The film, which tells the story of a Broadway choreographer/director Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider), whose excesses in life and work bring him to the edge of a collapse, was clearly modeled on Fosse’s own life. Some actors (like Ann Reinking) play characters very similar to themselves; other figures (like ex-wife Gwen Verdon, producer Hal Prince, and others) are played by others; and other actors (like Jessica Lange) who were close to Fosse play oddly mythic figures. Fosse, who’d started choreographing for film in 1954, was soon pulled to New York to choreograph and eventually direct such musicals as Pippin, Chicago, and Sweet Charity. In 1969, he started making films as well, winning an Oscar in 1972 for Cabaret. A demanding taskmaster and infamous womanizer, the chain-smoking Fosse suffered a heart attack in 1975. It was during this period that Shirley Maclaine (according to her) suggested he create something about his brush with death. The resulting film is a breathtaking musical sleight of hand as Fosse’s alter ego Joe Gideon reveals his innermost fears and desires only to cover them in the next moment with all that jazz––surreal show stopping dance numbers and Felliniesque romps into his libido and unconscious. In 1987, life imitated art as Fosse died from a heart attack, just moments before his revival of Sweet Charity was to open at the National Theater.

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