Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town; comedy, USA, 1936; D: Frank Capra, S: Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, George Bancroft
A simple and honest man in small town, Longfellow Deeds, is informed that he inherited 20 million $ from his deceased uncle. The attorney, Cedar, brings him to New York hoping he will trick the naive man into giving him the power of attorney authorization, which will enable him to handle his money, but Deeds turns out smarter than he thinks and refuses. A reporter, Babe, goes out with Deeds in order to write gossip articles about him, but she falls in love with him and admits her trechery, which leaves him heartbroken. Trying to help people during the Great Depression, Deeds gives a huge amount of his fortune to broke farmers, and wins in court when Cedar tries to accuse him of insanity to take the money away from him.

The movie that won Frank Capra his second Oscar as best director (the only win out of five nominations), "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" is an excellent example of the 'golden age' of Hollywood when good 'old school' narrative, straight forward style, calmness and wisdom were more important than flashy effects that just seize the attention, encompassing the director's often theme of an honest, innocent man coming in contact with rotten, corrupt people who run a system but tries to keep his humanity by showing them the right way, whereas the fabulous screenplay by Robert Riskin this time gave a more satirical touch in the form of a clear critique of society (everyone wants to exploit people with money) which would be used in numerous later Capra films, some even more pessimistic, like the very similar "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "Meet John Doe".

Gary Cooper is great as the leading protagonist who at first seems naive, but actually shows to be more clever than the attorneys expected ("Lamb bites wolf!", says one when Deeds clearly sees through a fraud who wants a million $ from him) as is Jean Arthur in a very grateful role of a strong female character, whereas some of the hero's quotes say a lot about of some two-faced habits and human nature ("People here are funny. They work so hard at living they forget how to live."; "They created a lot of palaces here - but they forgot to create the noblemen to put in them.") and even a lesson to rich people how to use their fortune with a purpose ("From what I can see, no matter what system of government we have, there will always be leaders and always be followers. It's like the road out in front of my house. It's on a steep hill. Every day I watch the cars climbing up. Some go lickety-split up that hill on high, some have to shift into second, and some sputter and shake and slip back to the bottom again. Same cars, same gasoline, yet some make it and some don't. And I say the fellas who can make the hill on high should stop once in a while and help those who can't."). A classic with a reason.


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