Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Meet John Doe (1941)

When Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) gets fired from her newspaper job at The Bullet by new editor Henry Connell (James Gleason), she fires back with one last article about a man called John Doe who has been unemployed for months and is tired of being pushed around and held back, she claims in the article that John Doe will commit suicide on Christmas Eve by jumping off the roof of city hall. When the public reacts to the article, Mitchell is hunted down and brought back to work after she convinces Connell that though the article was false, the reaction from the public is real and profitable. Together they plan to turn a real unemployed man into John Doe for continued circulation.
In comes Long John Willoughby (Gary Cooper), the ideal John Doe. He’s an ex minor league pitcher who is down on his luck and short of the cash he needs to get his arm fixed in order to continue playing ball. Using her late father’s diary as inspiration for the John Doe speeches, together Willoughby and Mitchell unwittingly make John Doe into a champion of the people. John Doe clubs are formed everywhere, regular citizens reach out to get to know one another and to make change for the better. D.B. Norton (Edward Arnold), owner of The Bullet and financial backer for the John Doe movement uses this opportunity to position himself as a candidate for the presidency, feeling that America should be ruled with a firmer hand. When Willoughby, now a firm believer in what he has been preaching, finds out how he is being used, he tries to stop Norton but is called out as a fraud instead. Totally disillusioned by what has happened, Willoughby decides it would be best to jump off the city hall roof, if only to prove to everyone who believed in the John Doe movement, that they should go on believing because despite the messenger's flaws, the message itself is important.

Once again Capra portrays the many guises of the human spirit with poignancy. I think Stanwyck is at her very best at the end of this film, Meet John Doe is one of my favorites of her work simply because of the ending. As always, Cooper displays equal amounts of sympathy and bravery which easily makes the viewer empathetic to his plight. Edward Arnold too plays the unsavory character I’m used to seeing and disliking. Add in Walter Brennan for a little down-home common sense and you have a wonderful message movie.
Side note:
Capra had filmed five different ending for Meet John Doe and had them audience-tested. The fifth and final version of the end was actually suggeted by an anonymous letter that was signed "John Doe," which read: "...I have seen your film with many different endings...all bad, I thought...The only thing that can keep John Doe from jumping are the John Does themselves...if they ask him."

Tonight on TCM!
Big Clock, The (1948)A corrupt publisher tries to frame a career-driven editor for murder.Cast: Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Sullivan, George Macready Dir: John Farrow

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