Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Talk about cinematic deja vu.

Frank Capra borrows the same template for mr. smith goes to washington that he used with Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.

Take a good man from a small town, bring him to the big city, have the establishment laugh at him and then threaten his reputation with a perceived scandal.

I'm not complaining. I think both films are great. They were both released during the Great Depression. I'd imagine the regular Joe could use a healthy dose of optimism on the silver screen to get by during those tough times.

Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper) is quite content living in a small town writing poetry for postcards. His life takes a dramatic turn when his rich uncle dies, leaving him an estate of $20 million. This is 1936 folks. Multiply that number a few times to get a sense of what that cash would be worth in 2013. $200 million? $400 million? Lawyers package him up for New York City and his new home - a huge mansion. "Gosh, I've got a lot of friends," he notes before he leaves town by train. Residents of Mandrake Falls are happy for him. Rather than applauding his success, those in the Big Apple are ready for a handout or slap Deeds around.

The tremendous wealth doesn't put dollar signs in Deeds' eyes. But plenty of other people are seeing green. Deeds is seen as an easy mark. The board of an opera company expect him to cut a cheque to wash away a sea of red ink. Established poets invite him to their table to ridicule him. Newspapers are desperate for copy on the new millionaire in the Big Apple. Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur) gets a promise of a month's paid vacation from editor MacWade (George Bancroft) if she can get Deeds' story. She captivates Deeds, a bachelor, then mocks him in a series of stories where he's dubbed The Cinderella Man.

Deeds wants to return home and escape all the scammers and ridicule that surround him. It takes an appeal from a down-and-out farmer (John Wray) for Deeds to consider how he can help others with his cash. That appeal is a little too sappy for this viewer, but that's a brief beef. Greedy lawyer John Cedar (Douglas Dumbrille) recruits another relative of the deceased and comes up with a plan to get the piles of cash from Deeds.

Cooper, in one of his first classic screen roles, is just right as the slow-talking, quick-thinking Deeds. Here's a man who can spot a con (save Babe's scoops) and is more concerned about finding love than driving around in a big car. Betrayals hurt, especially when he learns what Babe did.

Lionel Stander is well cast as Cornelius Cobb, the public relations guy who is supposed to keep Deeds out of trouble. "Bull's what I've been selling all my life," he notes at one point. Great line.

Jean Arthur is a dream - a beauty with brains who falls for Deeds and is haunted by how her words are used to persecute Deeds.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is funny, romantic and optimistic effort from one of Hollywood's greatest directors. Capra won an Oscar for this 1936 effort. The film earned four other Oscar nominations including best actor and picture.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Gino Corrado appears as a strolling violinist in Mr. Deeds. He had many bit parts in his career, added up to an impressive 394 credits. Corrado's resume included Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, Citizen Kane and Mr. Smith Goes to Washingon.

John Wray was Himmelstoss in the original All Quiet on the Western Front.

George Bennett appeared in John Ford's classic western, Stagecoach, in 1939.

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