Maybe it’s an unpopular opinion, but it doesn’t look all that fun to grow up in a super wealthy family.

united states, 1938, english



This film, which is utterly delightful, was not a hit when it was initially released in 1938. By itself that’s not all that remarkable, there are plenty of now-acknowledged classics that were missed upon their debut. What is more interesting is to contemplate why it was disliked, and what that says about the time period of its release, as well as our time period now.

The story isn’t all that deep really. A young “self-made” Cary Grant meets the daughter of a generationally wealthy family, and knowing nothing about her background falls quickly in love with her. He has a plan to make a bit of money and then quit working, to retire while he’s young and explore the meaning of life, with the intention to return to work when he’s older and wiser. Turns out the woman he’s fallen for isn’t exactly thrilled at that plan, but her older sister is, and screwball hijinks commence.

One of the main theories I’ve read as to why audiences weren’t enamored with this plot, is that it came at the height of the Great Depression. The idea is that people were put off by the notion of someone with a good job abandoning it, given that jobs at all were a real scarcity. There’s also the idea that he’s throwing away the life of luxury and privilege his marriage to the original heiress would provide.

That was certainly a radical idea in 1938, but I think it’s just as radical today. America is badly lacking the concept of enough. We are the most capitalistic society on the planet, and the idea that you could ever have enough, that growth is not an unalloyed good, is largely missing from our group mindset. Cary Grant’s character has made enough, at least for now, and wants to focus on other, more important things. His bride-to-be, and her father, cannot fathom the idea of someone walking away, when ever more money is available.

It’s toxic. At some point you really do have enough. There are plenty of studies that have shown that there is an initially huge improvement in life happiness with additional wealth, but that it plateaus at a number which would likely seem shockingly low to most of you. After that money doesn’t increase happiness, it’s just more. At some point it becomes a disease of more, and destroys even the original happiness it provided. This film is raging against that idea, and doing it a time when most folks really were struggling. That’s incredible.