You Can't Buy Everything (1934)

Film Review


Release Date: 26 January, 1934

Studio: MGM

Directors: Charles Reiser

Starring: May Robson, Jean Parker, Lewis Stone, William Bakewell


Rich Mrs. Hannah Bell (Robson) is so miserly that after her son, Donny, has hurt his leg, she waits a week before taking him to the doctor and then has him hospitalized as a charity case. Mrs. Bell has an engrossing passion, making money. Her days are spent in her bank vault where, surrounded by her ready cash, she works to make more money. She intends to leave her money to Donny whom she expects will join her in finance, though he aspires to be a writer. Besides her money and her son, Hannah’s other passion is the enduring grudge she holds against banker John Burton.

After Don’s graduation from college, he meets and falls in love with Beth, John Burton’s daughter. Hannah refuses to attend the wedding, and Don becomes estranged from his mother. Don learns the reason for his mother’s hatred of Burton, and he also learns the reason for Burton’s actions. Burton left Hannah on the morning of their wedding because her father demanded that he sign a form relinquishing all interest in her money. Burton believed that she agreed to this demand, and he left her. Hannah is devastated by this news and by Don’s denunciation of her avariciousness. Weakened in mind and body, she develops pneumonia. Her illness brings Don and Beth to her, and she reconciles with them. When Burton appears, she softens toward him. Her outlook and her health improve as she develops a new spirit of love and reconciliation.


The story is based on the life of Hetty Green (1834-1916), an American businesswoman famed for her wealth and her miserliness. Several of the incidents in the film, such as taking her child to a charity ward for medical care, are associated with Mrs. Green. May Robson (1858-1942), who had been in films continuously since 1926, was 76 years old when this film was made. Similar to Marie Dressler, Robson was a beloved actress whose age was not a detriment to her appeal. She was one of the oldest actresses ever nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award, for Frank Capra's Lady For a Day (1933). She also has a supporting role in Rubber Tires (1926).