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This film offers a standing rebuke to critics who use the term "Capracorn". None of Capra's films are as blindly optimistic as is often argued, but this one is a pitch-black jeremiad against manipulation by the media. The mob scene at the "John Doe" convention is one of the powerful scenes ever filmed. Stanwyck is incredible as reporter Anne Mitchell. She is one of the great actresses of the century, and she always did her best work Capra, whose female characters are generally more compelling to the women we get in the movies of our "liberated" era. Cooper is fantastic as a truly "average" guy who is "awakened" by his experience with the John Doe movement, and Edward Arnold is absolutely terrifying in the role of Fascist D.B. Norton. This film is even more relevant today than when it was made, and I would argue that it should be viewed in high schools across the continent. Capra is asking his viewers to think critically of EVERYTHING they hear on the radio or see in papers or hear from elites, and amen to that!
About 15 or twenty years ago MEET JOHN DOE aired on a saturday matinee program on the CBC. I watched it and absolutely loved it. In the ensuing two decades I have Studied Film History and the art of film making. I have debated Film Theory and criticisum with some of the country's most film-smart people and have worked extensively in the film industry. And very rarely through all of this was Meet John Doe mentioned. The other day I saw A copy of the film in a used video store, remembered it from my youth and promptly bought it. And after viewing it again I have to say it is definetly one of the finest motion-pictures I have ever seen. It has to be one of the most under-rated movies ever made. The social commentary exhibeted is one of the boldest that the medium has ever presented, especially considering the time it was made. A time when media propaganda was a driving force for home-shore morale at the beginning of WWII. Capra and langs techniques in this work are absoloutly astounding. The riot scene should be looked upon as ground breaking. The performances (both the lead and supporting) are among some of the finest and most endearing of the time. Needless to say I'm going to be toot this films horn for quite some time. (I think I'll go watch it again.)
There's an Italianate "cinema verite" in Capra's work, perhaps genetic . . . I find this film so powerful, and its characters so sympathetic, that I can hardly watch the riot scene. It's almost too terrifying.
Cooper's performance at first seems wooden, but he's an actor whom you need to watch, like a pond, to see the emotions swimming beneath the surface. Barbara Stanwyck is one of my favorite actresses--she never makes a false move and is beautiful to watch from any angle.
I find some lines of dialogue chilling in this age of Patriot Acts I and II and corporate globalism/global corporatism: "The American people need an iron hand," declares D. B. Norton, whose sneer looks like Cheney's.
This film is a classic example of a movie working effortlessly on a
range of different layers. Capra weaves his well-loved everyman through
a tale of both simplicity and political intrigue, taking in the
American depression and Biblical references along the way, and comes up
with messages that remain startlingly relevant today, over six decades
after this movie's release.
Gary Cooper delivers a masterful performance, and in keeping with the film, achieves this with a deceptively easy touch. He is supported by a peerless cast which includes Barbara Stanwyck and Walter Brennan, both on top form.
Perhaps most impressive is the illustration of Capra's democratic ideal by including the views of the audience throughout the story. You can find all your views being voiced by different characters at various points in the tale, opening the question of just who is the average everyman that Capra is seeking to show? - and how do they relate to you?
This movie is ten stars all over. Even for keen Capra fans, the expectation is surpassed by the final delivery. Thoroughly recommended.
Frank Capra's unabashed patriotism wins another pennant for Team U.S.A.
`Meet John Doe,' an Oscar-nominated feature (for original screenplay) that
roots for the underdog while demonstrating the power of the people en
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.
There is so much to recommend this film, especially in repeat viewings. I'll try to touch on things rarely mentioned. The opening credit montage that ends with a solitary newborn in a hospital ward speaks volumes, as does the opening scene: the jackhammering of the old Bulletin cornerstone. The dream that Long John tells Ann about, in which he plays a dual role, is a warm and economic device for letting us know about what he feels for her and why she could go for her. The near-monologue of Bert, the "soda jerker," is as masterful in its sustained understatement as the small-town mayor's bumbling is hilarious. All of Capra's sound films starting with "American Madness" employ an effective, trademark montage, but "Meet John Doe" overflows with three. The Colonel's joyous Three Little Pigs dance inside the freight car to the rhythm of the rails is joyous. The Jesus metaphor throughout becomes heavyhanded at the very end but is saved by the dead-on final line about "the people." Finally, the movie succeeds not just because of its attributes that can carry over to other forms of art such as books or plays, but also because it is a uniquely cinematic experience.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Spoiler Director Frank Capra gives us yet another moralistic gem in the
form of Meet John Doe. With a stella cast which include Barbara
Stanwyck, Walter Brennan, Edward Arnold and James Gleason. Capra
delivers a movie with a message of human kindness and compassion
released exactly the same time as man was killing fellow men all over
In order to keep her job at a failing newspaper Ann Mitchell (Stanwyck) concocts a phoney letter from a man who is determined to end his life in protest at the state of humanity and civilization, by jumping from the tower of city hall on Christmas eve.
The plight of the non existent man known only as John Doe touches the hearts of the papers readers. The Newspapers hard edged editor Connell, (Gleason), is now in a spot as Mitchell has declared that the letter was fake. With everyone trying to save John Doe and the Newspapers circulation improving, Connell and Mitchell decide to flesh out their creation by hiring someone to be John Doe. Enter Long John Whiloughby (Gary Cooper) a failed Baseball player who's homeless and looking for a job.
In return for money for an operation to enable John to continue his baseball career, he agrees to appear on radio as John Doe, explaining his reasons for his intended suicide and explaining that mans cruelness to others should cease and loving thy neighbour is the way forward for the world. Connell and Mitchell must first explain their actions to corrupt oil magnate and paper owner D B Norton (Edward Arnold).
After the Radio broadcast, John decides that he's being made out a stooge and goes back to his nomadic lifestyle. When recognised in a small hick town, He is soon aware of how much his radio broadcast has united the towns community. The community elect a spokesman in the form of Bert Hanson (Regis Toomey) who explains that they have formed their own 'John Doe Club'. John is visibly moved by what he has caused, and agrees to do a lecture tour of all the states in the hopes of uniting others.
D B Norton however, has other plans for the John Doe clubs and that is to unite the people through the John Doe cause and then exploit them by cornering their votes for his new 'third' political party and then rule with an 'Iron Hand' (sound familiar) Whether this party is Communist or Fascist is not explained but Norton does have his own Uniformed army at the ready not to mention many crooked politicians and Labour leaders in his slimy pockets.
During the Lecture tour, John and Ann develop their romance. On the Eve of a mass John Doe Convention, Connell becomes aware of Norton's scheme and tells John that he and the whole John Doe Movement is about to be exploited, to which John confronts Norton and is determined not to let his evil new order come to fruit. Wrongly thinking that Stanwyck is in cahoots with the would be dictator, tears up the intended speech and says he's gonna tell the people the truth. Norton's henchman are prepared for this eventuality and expose John as a phoney in front of thousands of John Doe members. Doe barely escapes injury as the crowd turns nasty.
With the John Doe clubs disbanded, the myth exposed, and the girl he loves out of his life, John makes up his mind to re-ignite the fire of the John Doe Movement by the only way that will prove that he is no longer a fake and that Norton's scheme can never transpire, and that is to obey the original text of the ficitious letter and to jump from the tower of the city hall.
Arnold's performance is outstanding as is Cooper's, and as he closes his eyes in silent prayer moments before he is to make his death leap brings a lump to your throat, and one of Stanwyk's final lines is equally as Moving ' If it's worth dying for then it's worth living for' Capra's film is strong to this date, and 60 odd years on has not dated as it gives a message as prevalent today as it was then. people can debate whether or not Capra deliberately made Doe out as a Christ-like figure till doomsday for all I care, I like the movie because it demonstrates that even the most ordinary man can make a difference.
This is a great movie. Gary Cooper is wonderful as John. At first, he does
it for the money, but then, he feels bad because some people really have
faith in him, and trust him. He feels guilty about being a fake. My
favorite part is when he says:
"The John Doe idea may be the answer though! It may be the one thing capable of saving this cockeyed world. Yet you sit back there on your fat hulks and tell me you'll kill it if you can't use it. Well you go ahead and try, you couldn't do it in a million years with all your radio stations and all your power. Because it's bigger than whether I'm a fake, it's bigger than your ambitions and it's bigger than all the bracelets and fur coats in the world!"
I also think Barbara Stanwyck gives a wonderful performance as Ann. I love it when he's standing on the building, threatening to jump, and she tells him that she loves him, and the world does too, and they'll forgive him for lying. I cried so much!
I first saw this movie on Christmas Eve and I loved it. I guarantee it will be a tradition for many Christmases to come!
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
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
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.
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