What Makes This Classic Movie Scene So Compelling?
The Two Characters in the Jail Cell Scene
Referred to mostly as Grandpa in the movie. He is an eccentric happy old man who has never paid his income tax because he doesn't believe in it. He lives his life by the philosophy 'don't do anything that you're not going to enjoy doing'. He goes to circuses, commencements, throws darts, and collects stamps. And, most of all, he loves to make friends and encourage their dreams.
Anthony P. Kirby
He is a very proper man, a stuffed shirt, who is president of Kirby and Co. and secretly despises his job. While others are suffering financially during the Great Depression, he is prospering. Besides making more money than he'll ever use, his hobby is raising expensive orchids. He is also a member of the Harvard Society, the Union Club, the National Geographic Society, and the Racquet Club.
You Can't Take it With You
You Can't Take it With You, a Frank Capra film, was made in 1938. It takes place during the Great Depression, and is a humorous story about an eccentric family that chooses happiness and friendships over money. It is a family that might seem dysfunctional on the surface, but they eat together, encourage one another's dreams and they shower each other with love and respect.
This is a movie with classic film actors like Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, Jean Arthur and Edward Albert. It is a love story about a poor woman from a loving family and a confused young man from a wealthy family. It is a story about two opposing belief systems coming together--money and power versus friends and happiness. It has several classic scenes in the movie like the mouse in the restaurant, the flabbergasted tax collector and fireworks that go off in the basement. But it was the scene inside the prison cell that got into my head. Grandpa Vanderhof's words directed at Anthony P. Kirby swirled around my conscious mind and made me think of what happiness, friendship and money is all about.
The Jail Cell Scene
The scene takes place in a jail cell in New York City. The Vanderhof and the Kirby family are in the cell with a group of other prisoners. The Kirbys are angy with the Vanderhofs for getting them in such a messy situation. Grandpa Vanderhof talks about Kirby's obsession with money and how it won't bring him any happiness in life. "You can't take it with you," he says. Kirby becomes indignant with Vanderhof as well as the others in the cell. He tells them that he clawed his way to the top and that "you are scum in the gutter." Grandpa Vanderhof looses his temper at Kirby for calling his friends scum...
Grandpa Martin Vanderhof: You're an idiot, Mr. Kirby.
Anthony P. Kirby: What?
Grandpa Martin Vanderhof: A stupid idiot.
Anthony P. Kirby: You can't talk to me like that.
Grandpa Martin Vanderhof: Oh, yes I can. 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!
Rolls Royce: A Classic Symbol of Affluence
There's Other Things More Important Than Worshiping the Coin
Grandpa Vanderhof felt that friendships were more important than money while Kirby felt otherwise. It seems when you are successful it is very difficult to let go of your wealth; you tend to not only hold on to it real tight, but create more. When you have Donald Trump money it is very hard to see the world as nothing other than a possible acquisition. Their motto: You can never have too much money. They become perpetural barracudas, on the prowl for more.
It must be hard to be Kirby. He has all the money he will ever need, yet he is never satisfied. Because it is very hard for him to understand that money isn't everything. Money is taking you to places and buying you things, but it doesn't make you genuinely happy--only people can help you with that.
In the movie, Kirby finally realized this. In order to be happy you need loving people around you and you have to put work aside and have fun.
Money and Happiness
What's the Best Thing About Having Friends?
When You Are Friendless
People who don't have any friends and few daily social contacts live in emotional deprivation. They may have a house up on the hill overlooking the ocean or they may have a Rolls Royce sitting in the driveway, but there is a deep sadness in their heart when they are friendless.
When you are friendless your life feels empty and boring. There is just work and home and loneliness. You might have the TV to keep you company or some video games on your XBox to kill time, but the loneliness follows you from room to room.
When you're friendless, you don't really go anywhere or have a good time. There is no one to laugh with, to celebrate with, to eat dinner with, and to go to the movies and share popcorn with. When you are friendless the best you can hope for is a pet to keep you company.
But when you have friends you have a life. You are loved. You are invited. You are called and given gifts. You are wished a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. You have someone to see, someone to do things with and a group of warm and cheery faces to be around. You rarely feel lonely and unhappy.
Grandpa Vanderhof had a friend mentality. He did things to create friendships. He was giving and grateful and gracious. He valued people. Money was just something that sustained you. Friendships were something that enlivened you and made your life worth living.
Friends Will Remember You When You're Gone
Comparing the Value Systems of Vanderhof and Kirby
Always wanting more
To be used to further your interests
Pampered with things
Fleeting and dependent on money and fame
Just for the necessities
Valued and cherrished
Nurtured and cared for
Being with friends and having fun
Vanderhof's Definition of Success?
We all understand what money does. It gives the illusion of control over other people. It gives us the feeling that we have power. Money feeds into the ego and gives us a false sense self-importance. It makes us feel superior to the have-nots. And it can isolate us and make us prejudiced toward others and holier than thou. It could also make us have a lot more enemies than friends.
Grandpa Martin Vanderhof believes that friendship, happiness and doing right to people constitutes a successful person. Sure money is needed, but only to put a roof over your head and to feed your family and friends. Having fun is what life is about. Having a houseful of people and a community of friends was more than enough to make Grandpa Vanderhof smile.
Do you agree with Vanderhof's definition of success? Or do you define being successful in a different way, perhaps more in line with Anthony P. Kirby? Your comments on this topic are welcome.