The Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon: Lionel Barrymore in You Can’t Take It With You

“You can’t take it with you… So what good is it? As near as I can see, the only thing you can take with you is the love of your friends.”  

 Lionel Barrymore as Grandpa Vanderhoff in You Can't Take It With YouLionel Barrymore as Grandpa Vanderhoff


Anyone who knows me, knows that “You Can’t Take It With You” is one of my all-time favorite movies.  For me, it’s a profoundly moving film that’s as relevant today as it was over 75 years ago when it was first released.  And, although it features some of my favorite actors of all time (Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Edward Arnold), it is really Lionel Barrymore that steals the show for me. Why??? Well, quite simply because his performance is so ‘simple’ and honest that it seems as if he’s not acting at all… just living the life of warm and wise family patriarch Grandpa Vanderhoff…

That said, I want to share some of my favorite Barrymore scenes here, but first I want to provide a short synopsis for those of you who haven’t seen the film yet…

you can't take it with you castLionel Barrymore, James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold

Synopsis:  Stenographer Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur) is in love with her boss Tony Kirby (James Stewart) who is VP of a family business run by his father, business mogul Anthony P. Kirby (Edward Arnold). When Tony proposes marriage to Alice, the powerful and rich Kirbys must meet Alice’s family, the good-natured and eccentric Sycamores — whose patriarch is the easy-going Grandpa Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore) who walked out on his job 35 years ago because he just ‘wasn’t having any fun’. The snobbish Mr. and Mrs. Kirby (Mary Forbes) think that Alice and her family spell trouble and are non-too-enthused about the engagement. When the Kirbys visit the Sycamores on the wrong night (thanks to Tony who wants his parents to see the Sycamores as they really are), chaos ensues and everyone inadvertently ends up in jail. While in jail, Kirby finds out that Grandpa’s house is the last obstacle standing between him and a huge munitions deal that will make Kirby even richer and more powerful. But if Grandpa gives in and sells his home to Kirby, it will have a domino effect on the community that will be devastating to his neighbors. While the Kirbys and Sycamores stand before the judge, some ‘telling’ words are exchanged and Alice breaks her engagement with Tony. Alice flees the city, leaving Tony and her beloved family behind…  I won’t tell you how the story ends, but suffice it to say that this is a Frank Capra film after all (enough said)…

And, now for some of my favorite scenes…


An inquisitive Grandpa strikes up a conversation with nervous but dedicated worker-bee Mr. Poppins (Donald Meek)… 

You Can't Take It With You, Mr. Poppins, Donald Meeks and Lionel Barrymor

Grandpa asks Poppins a life-altering question… 

Grandpa: You like this?
Mr. Poppins: Like it?
Grandpa: This work you’re doing?
Mr. Poppins: Oh no, my goodness, no. Landsakes, what am I saying?
Grandpa: Then why do you do it?… Isn’t there something else you’d rather be doing than this? 


You Can't Take It With You, Mr. Poppins, Donald Meeks and Lionel Barrymor

Mr. Poppins likes to invent things…

Grandpa: What do you mean, fooling around with all these dull figures? Seems to me Mr. Poppins, that THIS is the kind of work
you ought to be doing (inventing things).


Special moments between Grandpa and Granddaughter… 

You Can't Take it With You, Lionel Barrymore and Jean Arthur

Alice reveals to Grandpa that she’s in love…

Grandpa: Can’t even talk about him, can you?
Alice: Not rationally.
Grandpa: Well, who’s asking you to be rational?


You Can't Take it With You, Lionel Barrymore and Jean Arthur

Grandpa reminisces about Alice’s Grandmother… 

Grandpa: Listen, when I was courting your Grandmother, it took me two years to propose. You know why? The moment she’d walk into a room, my knees buckled. Blood would rush up into my head and the walls would start to dance.
Twice I keeled over in a dead faint.

Grandpa: I never got over it either. Right up to the very last, she couldn’t walk into a room without my heart going thump, thump, thump.

Alice: I wish I’d known her. What was she like?
Grandpa: Look in there (points to mirror).

Grandpa Vanderhoff: I can still hear the tinkle of her thin little voice, see her eyes laughing. That’s the reason I’ve lived in this house so many years — could never move out — would be like moving out on grandma.


Grandpa lands in jail with business mogul Anthony P. Kirby

you can't take it with you, edward arnold and lionel barrymore in jail

Grandpa tells Anthony P. Kirby a thing or two…

AP: You know what’ll happen if the newspapers get a hold of this. It’ll jeopardize the biggest deal of my career!

Grandpa Vanderhof: And what if it does fall through? What if all your deals fall through? Might be a good thing for you.
Anthony P. Kirby: Man, you’re crazy.
Grandpa Vanderhof: Well, maybe I am. I used to be just like you once. Then one morning, when I was going up in the elevator… it struck me I wasn’t having any fun. So I came right down and I never went back. Yes, sir. That was 35 years ago.
Anthony P. Kirby: Admirable. And you haven’t done anything since huh?
Grandpa Vanderhof: Oh yes, yes, yes… Oh just the things I wanted to do… collected stamps, went to the zoo when I got the notion, took up the harmonica, and even found time to notice when spring came around…


you can't take it with you, edward arnold and lionel barrymore in jail

Grandpa loses his cool…

Grandpa Vanderhof: Scum, are we? What makes you think you’re such a superior human being? Your money? If you do, you’re a dull-witted fool, Mr. Kirby. And a poor one at that. You’re poorer than any of these people you call scum, because I’ll guarantee at least they’ve got some friends. While you with your jungle and your long claws, as you call ‘em, you’ll wind up your miserable existence without anything you can call friend. You may be a high mogul to yourself, Mr. Kirby, but to me you’re a failure – failure as a man, failure as a human being, even a failure as a father. When your time comes, I doubt if a single tear will be shed over you. The world will probably cry, “Good riddance.” That’s a nice prospect, Mr. Kirby. I hope you’ll enjoy it. I hope you’ll get some comfort out of all this coin you’ve been sweating over then!


Grandpa trusts in the Almighty…

you can't take it with you, Grandpa Vanderhof saying grace

Grandpa gives thanks…

Grandpa: Well, Sir, here we are again. We’ve been getting along pretty good for quite a while now – we’re certainly much obliged. Remember all we ask is just to go along the way we are, keep our health; as far as anything else is concerned, we leave that up to you. Thank you.

And, just a few facts to wrap things up…

  • Lionel Barrymore’s birthname was Lionel Herbert Blythe.
  • Barrymore was born into the famous Barrymore/Drew theatrical family; his parents were Maurice Barrymore and Georgie Drew Barrymore (formerly Georgiana Emma Drew) – both actors; his mother’s parents (Louisa Lane Drew and John Drew) – were both actors; his mother’s siblings (Sidney, John Drew Jr and Louisa) – were all actors; his maternal great-grandparents (Eliza Trentner and William Haycraft Lane) – were both actors.
  • Lionel was the elder brother of John and Ethel; they were the most famous generation of the legendary thespian family.
  • He is the grand-uncle of Drew Barrymore. 
  • Barrymore suffered from arthritis. During the filming of You Can’t Take It With You, the pain of standing with crutches was so severe that Barrymore required hourly shots of painkillers. By 1938, Barrymore used a wheelchair exclusively and never walked again.


A big Thank You to In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood for hosting this wonderful blogathon event! There are so many more wonderful Classic Bloggers participating in this event so please be sure to check out the other entries.

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

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10 Responses to The Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon: Lionel Barrymore in You Can’t Take It With You

  1. Pingback: THE BARRYMORE TRILOGY BLOGATHON HAS NOW ARRIVED | In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood.

  2. Lovely look at a movie that rises and falls in my estimation according to my mood. Today as I read your description of the scene where Grandpa recalls his wife, I teared up.

  3. Awesome post! I, too, love this charming and delightful film. Lionel is so much fun here – and that’s no something you can say about many of his later roles.

  4. Definitely one of my all-time favorites! 🙂

  5. I agree – Lionel Barrymore is one of the best things about this delightful movie. It really is like he’s not even acting in this film, which means he’s very, very good.

    I love the screen caps and the dialogue you’ve posted. It’s made me want to see it again!

  6. Dorothy Winnett says:

    I love this. One of my favorite movies. wonderful post and I agree with you in regards to all the great Actors, story and wonderful living life message. ♥


  8. Crystal says:

    Thanks so much for participating in the blogathon. I’ve only just got around to reading the entries now, and I must say that yours was highly worth the wait. I agree with you about this film. It’s one of my favorites too. Great post.

    I’ve also just announced a new blogathon, that I would like to invite you to participate in. The link is below with more details

  9. Judy says:

    Loved your piece. I saw this film fairly recently and liked it a lot – James Stewart is great as always but it’s totally Lionel Barrymore’s film.

    Lionel played Scrooge in radio productions of ‘A Christmas Carol’ every year, but sadly never played the character on film. But I think that, through a combination of Grandpa in this and Mr Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life (Capra’s other great film with James Stewart!), we see how he would have played Scrooge both before and after the visits of the spirits.

  10. Before I sign off, the names Dr. Kildare and Dr. Gillespie had become commonplace in American pop culture in the 1940s-1950s, and even Bugs Bunny had a chance to have a bit of fun. Lionel Barrymore as Dr. Gillespie.

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