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Meet John Doe (1941)

Passed  |   |  Comedy, Drama, Romance  |  3 May 1941 (USA)
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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 »


When Henry is telling John about Morton's plans for the John Doe clubs, he lights a match but holds it an inch above the cigarette that he suppose to light it with. At the end of the scene, Henry presses the end of the cigarette into a plate to extinguish it, but the cigarette at this point is no longer burning and the end is already bent over showing that it had already been pressed into the plate in an early take. See more »


Long John Willoughby: [addressing the public] Why can't that spirit, that warm Christmas spirit, last all year long?
See more »


Featured in A Trip to Swadades (2008) See more »


Written by Ludwig van Beethoven (1824)
Lyrics by Friedrich Schiller (1785)
Performed by Hall Johnson Choir
See more »

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The Forgotten And Anonymous Get A Voice
23 August 2006 | by (Buffalo, New York) – See all my reviews

Meet John Doe was rudely jerked back into relevance in the Nineties by the emergence of a third party presidential candidate, wealthy enough to finance his own campaign, who ran in two presidential elections.

H.Ross Perot and Edward Arnold's D.B. Norton have some definite similarities. Both men of wealth, both ego maniacal enough to try and eschew the normal political route to the White House. Both firmly convinced they are what the USA needs.

Perot for all those graphs and charts didn't have much going for him in his candidacy other than a grudge against the Bush family. Although his platform isn't spelled out in Meet John Doe, Arnold says quite bluntly there's a new order of things coming and America needs a firm hand in the leadership. 'New Order' in 1941 meant fascism.

There's a marvelous bit of imagery that Frank Capra give us right at the beginning, it's one of my favorite moments in his films. The image of the old Daily Bulletin sign being sandblasted away about a free press guaranteeing a free people and vice versa. Replacing it is something about the new Daily Bulletin being a streamlined paper for the modern era.

Streamlining involves layoffs and the new editor James Gleason is giving out pink slips a plenty. One goes to Barbara Stanwyck who writes an innocuous chatty column. Gleason won't listen to her pleas so she fakes an anonymous letter from a man who signs it John Doe who threatens to jump off the City Hall Tower on Christmas Eve.

Stanwyck gets more than she bargained for and she and Gleason have to come up with a real John Doe. A sore armed former baseball pitcher, Gary Cooper, fills the bill.

This gets bigger and bigger and soon Arnold sees possibilities in it. Cooper goes on radio and delivers some homilies about love thy neighbor and being kind to others. He puts it over and a John Doe movement on these principles commences.

Homilies and bromides they may be. But love thy neighbor is a concept that should never go out of style. As is proved it's quite a bit bigger than the political aspirations of a snake.

This was the first teaming of Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. They followed it up with Ball of Fire another classic. Said to say that their third film, Blowing Wild, from the fifties hardly lived up to the first two.

Capra used a whole lot of familiar faces from his previous films in Meet John Doe. Also one new face who made his one and only Capra film, Cooper's good friend on screen and in life, Walter Brennan. He's Coop's cynical traveling companion on the open road, the Colonel.

Edward Arnold is one cold and sinister force in this film. I'm not sure but that this may be his penultimate role as a screen villain. His ambitions here would warrant that appraisal.

One performance I like is that of Regis Toomey. He plays a soda jerk who starts a John Doe Club in his small town. He has some great lines that he delivers simply and eloquently about how Cooper's first radio speech inspired him to really get to know some of the neighbors he had not bothered with before.

The lessons of Meet John Doe are simple and profound. Love Thy Neighbor and be kind to others are taught in all major religions and philosophies and the power is there when its focused. The other lesson I like is that the ordinary common people have a lot more in common than the things that divide them, be it race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, you name it.

Meet John Doe is a profound and moving film, but I be it's not one of H. Ross Perot's favorites.

16 of 24 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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