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Meet John Doe (1941)

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

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Writers:

(based on a story by), (based on a story by) (as Robert Presnell) | 1 more credit »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
...
...
The 'Colonel'
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Mrs. Mitchell
...
Henry
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Mayor Lovett
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Ted Sheldon
...
...
Bert
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'Sourpuss'
...
Angelface
Harry Holman ...
Mayor Hawkins
Andrew Tombes ...
Spencer
...
Hammett
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Storyline

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 <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

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

Genres:

Comedy | Drama | Romance

Certificate:

Passed | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

3 May 1941 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Frank Capra's 'Meet John Doe'  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The rooftop set for the final scene in was built in an icehouse to capture the sense that it was taking place on Christmas Eve. Barbara Stanwyck later said after shooting the scene she had to go to "the hospital for a defrost." See more »

Goofs

When the Governor sits, the ear piece of his glasses changes position between shots. See more »

Quotes

D. B. Norton: What the American people need is an iron hand!
See more »

Connections

Featured in Frank Capra's American Dream (1997) See more »

Soundtracks

OH! SUSANNA
(1848) (uncredited)
Written by Stephen Foster
Performed by Hall Johnson Choir
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User Reviews

 
Dark yet optimistic, beautifully realized piece of Americana as only Capra can dream up.
17 January 2002 | by (Los Angeles, California) – See all my reviews

Frank Capra's unabashed patriotism wins another pennant for Team U.S.A. with `Meet John Doe,' an Oscar-nominated feature (for original screenplay) that roots for the underdog while demonstrating the power of the people en masse. He backs up his strong, daunting ideology with sharp, crisp writing and even sharper character delineation. Capra's social piece was timely released in 1940, when Nazi sympathizers were gaining a potent voice in America, just prior to our involvement in WWII.

Struggling columnist Ann Mitchell (the incomparable Barbara Stanwyck) is one of many about to receive their walking papers as the latest casualties of a newspaper takeover. Learning that her dismissal is in part due to a writing style that lacks bite, she vents her anger on her last assignment, fabricating and printing a somber, biting `John Doe' letter. `Written' by a despairing, unemployed man, who, tired of life's indignities, has given up on an indifferent, capitalistic society, the writer vows to throw himself off the top of City Hall on Christmas Eve.

Ann's last column sparks a major outpouring of varying concern, not only from top government officials, but from newspaper competitors who claims the piece is a work of fiction designed to promote sales subscriptions, and from the public who are genuinely moved by this man's plight. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the new editor-in-chief (James Gleason, in a marvelous turn) reluctantly keeps Ann on the payroll (with a bonus) while deciding to run with the story. Auditioning indigent men to lend a face to their `John Doe,' they find their man in 'Long John' Willoughby (played to perfection by Gary Cooper), an ex-baseball player who has fallen on hard times. Willoughby becomes an instant celebrity and an identifiable symbol of integrity and humanity. `John Doe' clubs soon start sprouting up all over the place promoting `good neighbor' policies. Trouble brews, however, when a ruthless financier (played with typical malice by Edward Arnold) agrees to sponsor `John Doe' appearances for radio and the lecture circuit, then threatens the movement by using it for his own political aspirations.

Cooper and Stanwyck are ideal in their top roles. Stanwyck is peerless when it comes to playing smart, gutsy gals. Here, she shows all sorts of vibrant colors as an assertive reporter trying desperately to climb up the newspaper ladder without getting her hands too dirty, trapped on both sides of the fence and playing both sides superbly. Coop too is deeply affecting, the epitome of the `aw shucks' kind of 'everyman' who manages to find a stirring, articulate voice underneath all that awkwardness and reticence. Nobody plays this kind of role better.

It helps too that the leads are surrounded by all-star character pros. James Gleason is marvelous as the frustrated editor who must wrestle with his conscience as the hoax he orchestrated gets seriously out of hand. He has one exquisitely tipsy scene in a bar with Coop where he lays all the cards out on the table. Regis Toomey, as a prime spokesperson for the "John Doe" movement, has a touching moment as he expresses the impact the club has made on his community. Edward Arnold is exemplary as the manipulating moneybags, and Walter Brennan's straightforward Colonel is insightful as Coop's obstinate buddy who sees his friend falling into the same opportunistic trappings he is supposedly rebelling against. The one veteran, scene-stealing player not up to snuff is Spring Byington, who is stuck on the bench in a rather benign, devoted mom role.

The only foul ball I found in this fast-paced, smooth-running story takes place atop the City Hall with an overly hysterical Stanwyck punching home Capra's idealism ad nauseum. It could have been more effective with a still strong but subtler set-up and approach. So, hey, it's not quite a shutout, but why quibble when the rest of the film is way ahead of the game.

Like the equally dark `It's a Wonderful Life,' Capra's genius is that he knows how to pitch and score the important points when necessary, not only with laughter and tears, but with unyielding hope and, most significantly, with words. It's more than any home crowd can ask for.


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