Meet John Doe
Release Year: 1941
Director: Frank Capra
Writers: Robert Riskin (screenplay), Richard Connell (story), Robert Presnell, Jr. (story), Myles Connolly (uncredited contributions)
Starring: Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward Arnold, Walter Brennan, Spring Byington, James Gleason, Gene Lockhart, Rod La Roque, Irving Bacon, Regis Toomey
Rating: Nominated for 1 Oscar: Best Original Screenplay.
Sunday Classic #263, week 27 2019
A man needing money agrees to help a newspaper in need of a boost by playing a non-existing person, who says he will commit suicide in protest on Christmas eve. His protest soon gives rise to a political movement and soon he is caught between his lies, a power hungry newspaper man, the unstoppable movement bearing his name, and his love for a woman journalist.
In some ways, Meet John Doe mirrors Capra’s later masterpiece It’s a Wonderful Life (1946); a decent man down on his luck becomes the hope of those around him, has to fight those seeking to take advantage of the little man, and both involve an attempted suicide around Christmas. It’s a stretch to claim that this served as an inspiration, but the similar themes are unmistakable. Cooper (High Noon, 1952) plays the title character, and down-on-his-luck man who lost his livelihood as a baseball pitcher after an elbow injury. He says yes to impersonate this fictional character created by the imaginative journalist Ann Mitchell (Stanwyck) and soon finds himself more involved than he bargained for. The film explores themes of love of neighbour, political corruption, the value of the hard-working and decent everyman, honesty and integrity, and freedom versus responsibility. Thrown into the mix is a sweet love story and some light comedy from a lovely cast of amusing secondary characters. Especially, the excellent Walter Brennan (Rio Bravo, 1959) as John Doe’s freedom loving travelling companion. A man of the road who warns John of all the dangers of being tied down by money and all that comes with it. Cooper’s subtle and powerful performance, a great script, great drama, heartful moments, and some funny moments sprinkled in to the mix this is a classic to watch. Highly recommended!
Director Frank Capra didn’t want anyone except Gary Cooper for the part of John Doe. Cooper accepted the part, without reading the script, for two reasons: He had enjoyed working with Capra on Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and he wanted to work with Barbara Stanwyck.
Four different endings were filmed but not of them satisfied test audiences. A fifth ending was suggested in a letter by an audience member and used for the final film.
Regi Toomey, who plays Bert, had memorized his long monologue about the John Doe clubs for his audition, so when it came to shooting the scene he told Capra he didn’t need a rehearsal and the scene was shot in one take.
Picture Copyright: Jazzmedia
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