Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 08
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).


More Flashbacks
December 8, 1978
The Deer Hunter released

In 1978, two very different Hollywood films for tackled the previously taboo subject of Vietnam: Hal Ashby's Coming Home (released in February '78) and Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter, which debuted on December 8, 1978.

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December 8, 1861
Georges Melies Born

Born in the middle of the 19th century, Georges Méliès helped define film as the most important artform of the 20th century. The son of a shoe manufacturer, Méliès was fascinated more in stagecraft and puppetry than heels and soles. And while he eventually took over his father’s factory, he did so only to make enough money to buy the Theatre Robert Houdin in 1888. Soon he became a master showman, creating elaborate stage fantasies with magic and special effects. His life changed completely on December 28 1895, after he attended the Lumière brothers’ exhibition of their Cinématographe. From then on, he strove to marry the magic of theater with the magic of film. In 1896, a production gone wrong showed him the way. After a camera jammed, Méliès saw things wondrously disappear, then pop back in frame, as if by directed by a master magician. He started developing other special effects—a double exposure, a split screen, and a dissolve––to enhance film’s trickery. In 1902, his A Trip to The Moon became an instant classic, turning Méliès into one of film’s foremost artists. His success however could not be maintained. By 1913 his famous film company was sold off, leaving Méliès nearly penniless. Indeed the boy who turned to the arts to avoid making shoes watched as the celluloid from his films was used to patch soldiers shoes during World War I. Nearly lost to obscurity, Méliès was rediscovered in the 20s and awarded the French Legion of Honour in 1931. Now heralded as one the grandfathers of cinema, only 200 of his over 500 films remain.

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