Restoration: 'You Can't Take It With You'
Issue: November 1, 2015

Restoration: 'You Can't Take It With You'

CULVER CITY, CA — Sony Pictures recently completed a 4K restoration of Frank Capra’s Academy Award-winning 1938 romantic comedy You Can’t Take It With You for Blu-ray release on December 8th. The project is the latest in Sony’s ongoing effort to restore and remaster the director’s major films in high resolution using the latest digital technology. 

Grover Crisp, Sony Pictures EVP asset management, film restoration & digital mastering, led the project and notes that preservation of this film had been problematic for decades. “The original picture negative is presumed to have been destroyed in the 1940s, and none of the surviving material is in good condition,” he explains. “The best surviving element, a third generation nitrate duplicate negative, was the subject of preservation initiatives undertaken by the Library of Congress, with generous funding by David Packard in the 1980s.”

Through a bit of luck, Crisp was provided with additional source material for the new restoration. A 1939 print of the film (along with prints of several other films) was recently discovered on a ranch formerly owned by Capra, in Fallbrook, CA. Under the auspices Frank Capra, Jr., the prints were given to Sony Pictures for preservation and to assess their usefulness for future restoration of the titles.  

“The 1939 print was made from the same dupe negative used in the 1980s restoration, but prior to the replacement sections being cut in,” notes Crisp. “Even though both the dupe negative and the print were very soft, contrasty and full of built-in dirt, scratches and density fluctuations, we were able to mix and match shots from both to come up with the best image quality possible. The unfortunate state of these best remaining source elements is, of course, the reason for the relatively poor image quality of this film compared to most other major Capra titles.”

The two source elements were moved to Cineric in New York, a laboratory that pioneered the use of wet-gate technology in 4K scanning. After inspection and layout by expert technician Ulrike Reichhold, the elements were scanned and the 4K files sent to the restoration and DI facility at Sony Pictures Studios. There, Crisp and his team, working with colorist Scott Ostrowsky, determined on a shot-by-shot basis, what would be used from each element.  

After conforming the reels from the final selection of shots from each element, the files were then sent to MTI Film in Los Angeles, where the image restoration where took place. Chace Audio by Deluxe handled the audio restoration, using half the reels from the 1939 print and the rest from a safety fine grain master, which contained the best surviving soundtrack. All of the work came together for final grading and finishing at Sony Pictures Studios.  

“While the overall image quality might be less than standard by current expectations, the final restored film is still a significant improvement over what has been available for many decades,” says Crisp.

Other recent Sony 4K restoration projects include A Man for All Seasons (a Best Picture winner in 1967), O ur Man in Havana, Fat City and Cover Girl. The restored A Man for All Seasons and Our Man in Havana screened at this year’s London Film Festival. Fat City will mark its premier engagement at Film Forum, New York and Cover Girl will screen at the Museum of Modern Art, both in November.