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Acting Quite Human: You Can't Take It With You (1938)

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When Frank Capra saw George Kaufman and Moss Hart's You Can't Take It With You on Broadway in 1936, he wrote that he was "convinced that here is one of the finest comedy dramas of our time -- a great idea told through comedy." Apparently others agreed; the play was a huge success and ultimately won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Capra knew he wanted to film the story for Columbia, but with the screen rights set at an unprecedented $200,000 ($3.5 million in 2016 money!), studio head Harry Cohn refused to acquire the property. However, when Capra sued Columbia for attaching his name to the British release of If You Could Only Cook, Cohn changed his tune and bought You Can't Take It With You to help mollify the director.

Although there are stronger Capra films, You Can't Take It With You is still essential Capra. The romance between Jean Arthur and Jimmy Stewart is simple and sweet. The characters are idiosyncratic, humorous, and authentic. The script is sharp y…

Fred & Ginger get the last laugh in... Shall We Dance (1937)

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When a popular screen team makes a number of films together, there are bound to be a few flicks that fall through the cracks. When it comes to Fred and Ginger, everyone knows the big three: The Gay Divorcee, Swing Time, and Top Hat. This doesn't necessarily make them the best of the duo's output, though. (Except for Top Hat. That one's near perfect.) I find myself drawn to the more neglected films, such as Follow the Fleet, Carefree, and the film I'm talking about today, Shall We Dance. A bubbly musical comedy about show business, Shall We Dance is a sharp-witted, superbly crafted confection with a nice helping of froth on top. When I created my ranking of Astaire and Rogers movies a few years ago, there was a reason why I listed SWD at #3.

Actually, there are many reasons. For starters, there is the phenomenal score by George and Ira Gershwin. Despite their immense popularity and proven successes, SWD was just the second film to commission the brothers and it became …