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Meet John Doe (1941)

Passed | | Comedy, Drama, Romance | 3 May 1941 (USA)
2:39 | Trailer
A man needing money agrees to impersonate a non-existent person who said he'd be committing suicide as a protest, and a political movement begins.


Frank Capra


Richard Connell (based on a story by), Robert Presnell Sr. (based on a story by) (as Robert Presnell) | 1 more credit »
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 1 win. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Gary Cooper ... 'Long John' Willoughby
Barbara Stanwyck ... Ann Mitchell
Edward Arnold ... D.B. Norton
Walter Brennan ... The 'Colonel'
Spring Byington ... Mrs. Mitchell
James Gleason ... Connell
Gene Lockhart ... Mayor Lovett
Rod La Rocque ... Ted Sheldon
Irving Bacon ... Beany
Regis Toomey ... Bert
J. Farrell MacDonald ... 'Sourpuss'
Warren Hymer ... Angelface
Harry Holman ... Mayor Hawkins
Andrew Tombes ... Spencer
Pierre Watkin ... Hammett


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


Produced at the Studios of WARNER BROS. See more »


Comedy | Drama | Romance


Passed | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


Regis Toomey had already memorized his monologue about the John Doe Clubs for his audition, so the day he was supposed to shoot it, Frank Capra asked if he needed a rehearsal. Toomey didn't, so they shot the scene in one take. See more »


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

Alternate Versions

Also available in a computer-colorized version. See more »


Featured in Keepers of the Frame (1999) See more »


O Tannenbaum
(1824) (uncredited)
Traditional tune, lyrics by Ernst Anschütz
[Incorrectly credited as written by Ernst Anschütz]
Played in the score
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User Reviews

Capra's Hopeful Dose of American Populism Leaves a Bitter Aftertaste
22 December 2016 | by evanston_dadSee all my reviews

Anyone who thinks Frank Capra was good for nothing but sentimental schmaltz should check out "Meet John Doe" as evidence that he frequently hid a bitter pill at the center of his candied Americana.

The allure of Barbara Stanwyck is what drew me to "Meet John Doe" in the first place, but I was disappointed both by her performance (uncharacteristically frantic) and by the fact that she drops out for large portions of the film. Instead, I was impressed with Gary Cooper, who delivers a tour de force performance as an average Joe who agrees to pose as a representative of the common man as part of a scheme to get back at a newspaper mogul and then finds that he begins to believe the lines he's given to recite when the scheme blows up and becomes something huge involving big business and political candidates. The film feels incredibly prescient at this moment in time, because it's so much about how easily the average working-class American is manipulated by the media and is at the mercy of rich politicians who don't give a damn about their plight but will tell them whatever they want to hear to get elected. The movie was meant as a rallying cry for good decent people to ban together and force the positive change their elected leaders and the media deny them, and ends on a hopeful note that this is actually possible. But again, watching it at this specific moment in time, it's hard to feel anything but melancholy that our country feels further away than ever from realizing the idealism Capra so earnestly believed in.

In addition to Cooper and Stanwyck, the film boasts an impressive performance by Edward Arnold, whose character is representative of every manipulative, greedy politician to ever darken the American landscape, and able support from character actors James Gleason and Walter Brennan. Richard Connell and Robert Presnell were Oscar nominated for writing the film's original story.

Grade: A-

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Release Date:

3 May 1941 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Frank Capra's 'Meet John Doe' See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

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