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Meet John Doe (1941)

Passed  |   |  Comedy, Drama, Romance  |  3 May 1941 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.7/10 from 8,713 users  
Reviews: 80 user | 44 critic

A man needing money agrees to impersonate a nonexistent person who said he'd be committing suicide as a protest, and a political movement begins.



(based on a story by), (based on a story by) (as Robert Presnell) , 2 more credits »
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Title: Meet John Doe (1941)

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
The 'Colonel'
Mrs. Mitchell
Mayor Lovett
Ted Sheldon
Irving Bacon ...
Bert (credit only)
J. Farrell MacDonald ...
Warren Hymer ...
Harry Holman ...
Mayor Hawkins
Andrew Tombes ...
Pierre Watkin ...


As a parting shot, fired reporter Ann Mitchell prints a fake letter from unemployed "John Doe," who threatens suicide in protest of social ills. The paper is forced to rehire Ann and hires John Willoughby to impersonate "Doe." Ann and her bosses cynically milk the story for all it's worth, until the made-up "John Doe" philosophy starts a whole political movement. At last everyone, even Ann, takes her creation seriously...but publisher D.B. Norton has a secret plan. Written by Rod Crawford <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


ALL AMERICA WANTS TO MEET THE "MR. DEEDS" OF 1941! (original print media ad - all caps)


Comedy | Drama | Romance


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Release Date:

3 May 1941 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Frank Capra's 'Meet John Doe'  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Frank Capra went into production without a clear idea of how the film should end. He shot or edited five endings and previewed two. In one, the film ended with John being disgraced at the John Doe Convention and Henry Connell saying, "Well, boys, you can chalk another one up to the Pontius Pilates." Preview audiences found that version too depressing. Another ending actually had John committing suicide, with The Colonel cradling his dead body in his arms and saying, "Long John, you poor fool. You poor sucker." Robert Riskin preferred this ending, but Capra was unconvinced and feared the suicide would cause problems with the Catholic Church. He also had a version in which Ann talks John out of committing suicide and a variation in which John's merry Christmas with Henry causes the corrupt publisher to see the light. Undecided, Capra released different versions of the ending for the film's initial engagements in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, DC. Finally, a comment from one of the previews inspired a fifth ending, in which some of the original John Doe Club members show up to tell Willoughby they had never stopped believing in him. That also would allow Capra to deal with another problem pointed out by preview audiences and in letters from angry fans--the depiction of Willoughby's followers as a fickle herd easily swayed by the film's corrupt politicians. Capra shot the new ending and had prints called back from theaters so it could be added before the film went into national release. Years later he would say that even that ending wasn't quite right. See more »


The collar of John Doe's coat is alternately up and down between shots when Ann is persuading him not to jump off the roof. See more »


Beany: What's a helot?
The Colonel: You've ever been broke, sonny?
Beany: Sure, mostly often.
The Colonel: All right. You're walking along, not a nickel in your jeans, your free as the wind, nobody bothers ya. Hundreds of people pass you by in every line of business: shoes, hats, automobiles, radios, everything, and there all nice lovable people and they lets you alone, is that right? Then you get a hold of some dough and what happens, all those nice sweet lovable people become helots, a lotta heels. They begin to creep up on ya, ...
See more »


Featured in Old Fashioned (2014) See more »


Beer Barrel Polka
Music by Jaromir Vejvoda (1927)
English lyrics by Lew Brown (1934)
See more »

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User Reviews

The third film in Capra's unofficial trilogy is darkly wonderful.
4 March 2008 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

After doing Mr Deeds Goes To Town and Mr Smith Goes To Washington for Columbia, Capra quit and made this third film about an average Joe thrust into a powerful world where exploitation is high on the agenda, but in true Capra style the story unfolds to a customary flip flop triumph.

Ann Mitchell is a struggling journalist who gets fired from her newspaper job by new editor Henry Connell, by way of venting her frustrations she writes in her stinging last article about a man called John Doe who is tired of being pushed around and held back by the big bosses, she finishes the piece by claiming that Doe will commit suicide on Christmas Eve by leaping off the roof of city hall, the public react to the letter with tremendous heart and Doe becomes a champion of the people.

After Connell gets interested in the letter Ann has to confess that she made it up, they hatch a plan to turn a real unemployed drop out into John Doe so as to continue the story and sell more papers, and of course Ann gets to keep her job. This brings in ex minor league pitcher Long John Willoughby, who is down on his luck and very short of cash, and this is when the story shifts from amiable comedy on to a much darker path, the result making for a riveting watch.

Whilst not being up with the best Capra films in his armoury, it is, however, one of his smartest. The portrayal of the human spirit in many guises is stark and poignant, whilst thematically Capra got his point over about the unsavoury elements blossoming in America. The cast are nailed on watchable, Gary Cooper is John Doe, the right amount of sympathy and guts is garnered from his performance, and in one rousing speech he has the viewers in the palm of his hand. Barbara Stanwyck is Ann Mitchell and she delivers a great turn that calls for a number of emotions to be performed convincingly, while the support cast are all solid with the stand out a bizarrely unnerving Edward Arnold as D B. Norton; a man wishing to be a dictator if ever there was one. 10/10

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