Made in the middle of Capra’s streak of sincere, goodhearted dramas, a couple years before he ramped up for the war propaganda machine. I was excited to see this because I love Robbie Fulks’ song about loving Jean Arthur, but I didn’t end up loving the movie’s Jean Arthur more than I love the song Jean Arthur. Maybe Robbie was watching A Foreign Affair, or Shane, or a different Capra film.
A corporate-greed movie, pretty funny for a self-important serious-issues drama, but still feels a tad long and obvious. Jimmy Stewart is in love with his secretary Jean Arthur, but their parents disapprove. Jimmy’s very rich & proper dad owns the huge business of which Jimmy is vice-president, and Jean’s dad (Lionel Barrymore) is a giddy eccentric who lives in a house where everyone does whatever they please (which mostly means dancing and making fireworks). Ends up in jail, then in court, with Barrymore’s lifestyle on trial. Can the stuffy rich people learn to lighten up just a bit, and can the nutty eccentrics learn to conform just a bit, so that their star-crossed lover children can be happy? Of course!
Lionel Barrymore is swell as the good-hearted old commie, but better is Donald Meek as a formerly repressed corporate bookkeeper who goes to live in Barrymore’s house, gleefully inventing and exploding things. Also cool is Russian dance instructor Mischa Auer (seen almost twenty years later in my second-to-last screenshot in Mr. Arkadin) whose strict manner clashes comically with the rest of the Barrymore house.
Lionel Barrymore (right, of Tod Browning and Lubitsch movies, later in Duel in the Sun and Key Largo) shames Edward Arnold (left, in the movies since 1916, played Webster in The Devil and Daniel Webster)
Donald Meek is charmed by Lionel Barrymore:
Small-headed Mischa Auer with God’s Jean Arthur.