I read lots of Kaufman plays in the eighth grade, George S., Kaufman & Hart, hadn’t read or seen any since. Last night Jan and I watched the DVD of You Can’t Take It with You. A very young Jimmy Stewart, a spunky Jean Arthur: Lionel Barrymore, Edward Arnold … Jan would have been five when the play opened; I wasn’t born yet. Nice, cute. I was reminded of the Marx Brothers (with the social absurdity), of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (with the commie/anti-commie shticks …
Arnold is a ruthless banker, Stewart is his likable nebbish son, Barrymore’s a guy who got off the career elevator one day and has been a conventional kook anarchist ever since: he keeps “black help”, but everything else at home is early-Acts-of-the-Christians, share and share alike: so long as you’re white, semi-schooled, heterosexual … The son of ruthlessness, Jimmy, falls in love with the granddaughter of the well-ensconced anarchist; the anarchist teaches the banker to chill.
I noticed something I never noticed in the eight grade:
|All the kooks in Barrymore’s house do “what they want” (the house is on or near Wall Street!) — and seem to be “happy”; the ruthless bankers are rich, then richer (then suicides) … and are Unhappy!|
Barrymore gives Arnold a harmonica, and all is solved. As though Arnold had been trying to find happiness and failing, finding wealth and power instead: aiming at happiness and missing.
No, no. He wanted power! Everyone in the story (whether they know it or not) wants power!!! Not happiness! Not the Kingdom of God, not salvation! not a sane society … No, they want to be able to fuck without getting fucked (so they all get fucked): but are so addicted to their power game they can’t see happiness or salvation potentially all around them.
Till Barrymore’s seeing it, pursuing it, finding it, is absurd. No. Even the rolled-over want Genghis on a horse, trampling them. And in civilization, that’s just what we get.
Pretending we love Jesus is just loony.
Something else I wouldn’t have seen in the eighth grade: the kooks and company are all arrested when the cops raid the house. Guys are manufacturing fireworks in the basement (like Lord Byron in Countess Guiccioli’s house!), the guys try to warn the cops that they can’t be arrested till they defuse the rockets. The cops won’t listen, the whole place blows up: and no one sees that the explosion was the cops’ doing! not the anarchists.
Conventional, White …
The kooks have a black maid, smiling, happy, nice. The black maid has a black fiancé, smiling, happy, nice. The kooks have a Ruskie friend, scowling, negative, Rasputin-like. The Ruskie brings the black maid, sole housekeeper for the thirty or so white kooks living there, his laundry! points out which buttons need to be re-sewn. The black maid, smiling, happy, nice, takes the laundry!
(And the black fiancé does not tell the Ruskie to shove his shirts up his ass.)