Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
Starring: Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur
Directed by: Frank Capra
Released by: Columbia Pictures
Synopsis: Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper), a small town poet that plays the tuba, inherits a great fortune from his late uncle, and is taken to New York City to claim it. But when he decides to do great things with it, his sanity is questioned and is put on an unfair trial where his ideals are put to the test.
Review: One of the things I love most about Frank Capra's films is that they celebrate the strengths of the common man. At times they may come off as preachy, but they make the films more accessible and easier to relate than any other film of its kind. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is no exception. The common man in this picture is Longfellow Deeds, played wonderfully by Gary Cooper. Mr. Deeds is an eccentric man, with an always honest disposition and unique views on life. This causes him to be labeled as "not quite there", but the truth is that he is perhaps smarter than the characters he encounters, and that becomes both his weakness and greatest strength. Yep, this is a Capra film alright. Mr. Deeds embodies the everyday man very well. When placed in an extraordinary situation his reaction is very believable. He is full of doubt, unsure of what to do and pressured by society to act in a way he doesn't believe in, strengthening his own ideals in the process.
He also encounters some very cynical and mean spirited people, many which later become his friends and allies. Louise Bennet (Jean Arthur) is the best example. She is dead set on manipulating Mr. Deeds in order to get a story for her employers to use against him. His charms, however, prove to be too strong in the end, defeating many of the ill intentions he is faced during his journey. Once more, this is classic Capra at its finest. This is pulled off thanks to the very strong script and the versatility of the actors. They feel authentic and know how to play their characters effortlessly.
It's a relatively simply film, but one presented very well. The film has no fancy cinematography or intriguing set pieces. It makes due with the strength of the story and the talents of the cast of players, and sometimes that's just enough to make a great film. The best example of this is the court scene. Without spoiling it, everything you have grown to expect in a Capra film appears here. Capra's ideals of the virtues and values of the common man shine greatly, presenting us a Mr. Deeds that is very hurt by the lies and offenses of the people he used to call friends, and then rises to the occasion with the one thing people were judging: his eccentricity. This scene makes a big statement about what we consider to be sane and normal, telling us that even when we all have our quirks we shouldn't be labeled as incapable of rational thought. The film even has the audacity to question high scholars when they try hard to over analyze a simple concept and yet still be victim of it. To me, that's a great message.
Of course, the most common problem in Capra's films is that when defining the good guys he tends to make the antagonists really cartoony almost to the point of being silly. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town suffers from this as well, though it isn't as bad as the films that came before and after it. The other flaw in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is that for some it might be too light considering the topic it is handling. The drama is light, even when the conflict gains a much bigger presence in the last act of the film. This, however, can work in the film's favor. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town may be the most accessible of the ambitious Capra films. It delivers a point without being too preachy about it (in my honest opinion, Mr. Deeds' speech is more of an observation than a full on message).
Before Capra took on corrupt politics in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, he gives us a lighter and enjoyable film in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, but doesn't skip on the social relevance. Frank Capra reminds us once again that we the common people have the power to do great things and face adversity with our goodwill and smarts. Don't miss out on this great film.
Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5
This review is dedicated to Neal Ronaghan and Zachary Miller. Last Wednesday night we recorded the Nintendo World Report Newscast podcast, and Filmstrip Memories got a nice mention from them. Expect to listen to the show very soon. Thanks for the awesome recording session!