Saturday, December 22, 2012

Meet John Doe (1941)



“Everything in that speech is what a certain man believed in. He was my father. When he talked people listened. They will listen to you too.”

            Frank Capra made some of the greatest American films of all time. Like several directors in early Hollywood he was an immigrant (from Italy). To me it seems the immigrants can be the most patriotic and most interested in politics. In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Meet John Doe, Capra made his characters good honest Americans caught up in a nasty cheating self absorbed American government. The men in charge want to use these good honest people for their own gain and go against all the good that can be found throughout the country.
            Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) is laid off from her job. Her boss Mr. Connell says her column is no longer relevant for the paper. She writes a letter to the paper about how unfair it is that good men and women who have worked hard are getting laid off and signs it John Doe. As John Doe she says the writer will kill himself on Christmas Day because of his principles. The whole town is talking about this letter and the man. Ann goes back to Connell telling him it was she who wrote the letter. Reporter and editor come up with a plan to find a real John Doe to be the face of the recurring article while Ann writes the pieces. Outside the office are dozens of men looking to be John Doe. The man they choose is John Willoughby (Gary Cooper) who used to be a baseball player until he hurt his arm.
            Connell has his two of his men take John to get some new clothes and gives John fifty dollars. John’s friend The Colonel does not like what is going on. He can see that all this mess will change John he will be corrupted by all the people around him. John does not listen to The Colonel he is so happy to be off the streets and to be able to have a place to sleep and order all the food he wants.
            The column is a sensation all over the country. Ann is called down to the home of the owner of the newspaper D.B. Norton (Edward Arnold). Norton wants Ann through his radio station to write a speech for John to say over the air. He also tells her to keep on writing this column and she will make money to the point where she will be comfortable for the rest of her life. Ann struggles to write the speech. For inspiration her mother shows Ann her father’s diary. He was a man that when he spoke everyone listened to him. Before the broadcast John and The Colonel are bribed by a rival newspaper. They will give John five thousand dollars to disappear. John almost takes the money until he sees Ann all excited that he will be speaking the words of her father. The rival paper is furious the owner jumps up and yells out during the broadcast that John is a fake. The speech and the broadcast are a sensation.
            After the speech the pressure of being a fake and people finding out gets too much for John and he and The Colonel run away together. They wind up in a small town and are immediately recognized. After they are found Norton devises a plan to start a John Doe platform for the presidential race and want John to tell the country that Norton will be running to president. Norton does not like the John Does of America he just wants to gain political office.
            The cast was exceptional. No actor in American cinema defines America like Gary Cooper. He was handsome yet looked like he could be your best friend that you could play baseball with and have a drink. Barbara Stanwyck I think is one of the ultimate American actresses. She was what every woman wanted to be- tough, independent, and smart yet loving and kind. Stanwyck came from almost nothing as she was growing up and she became this popular successful actress with a long career that she had control over. I would say that is a great American success story. I love Cooper and Stanwyck together because their screen personas and attitudes were so different. She was tough he was shy, they balanced each other perfectly. Edward Arnold’s character was so awful. He was so nasty and cruel that you hated him. Whenever someone can pull off playing such an evil character to point where they are hated you know the actor did his job. Spring Byington played Ann’s mother. I love seeing her in films no matter how long she is in them. Walter Brennan I think played one of the best characters of the film. He was the voice of reason and you believed him.
            Frank Capra was such a wonderful director. There were so many scenes that were filmed brilliantly. I like Capra was always able to capture every feeling and emotion of the characters. You could feel their fear, their love, their sadness, their betrayal all through the camera.
            Despite being a little too long, having too many drawn out speeches, and dragging in some moments Meet John Doe is a fantastic film. This is American cinema and beliefs at its best. I love the fact that this great American film was made by an Italian immigrant. Sometimes it takes an outsider to see value in something. If I were a history teacher Meet John Doe would be a film I would want to show to my class so they can see and believe that there is still good in America and its citizens