It’s been more than 3 weeks since my last Blog – Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. You might ask, “Now, why can’t that spirit, that same warm Christmas spirit last the whole year round?”. Well it can! You just need a year’s supply of what the some movie critics of Frank Capra’s day referred to as Capra-Corn. As I documented in my Blog of Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, those reviewers used the term to criticize Capra’s films as Pollyannaish. But history tells us that Capra-Corn is a snack made to order for movie-goers, doesn’t it?
Well today, my Blog is of another Capra classic, Meet John Doe. Capra not only directed the film, he also produced it with Robert Riskin. Amazingly, however, neither is credited. That would justifiably be unimaginable for a feature film made today. The producers are, after all, the directors’ bosses and the nominees for the Best Picture Oscar if applicable.
Meet John Doe was Capra’s final motion picture before World War II, and It’s a Wonderful Life was his first following it. He made many films during the War, but with the exception of Arsenic & Old Lace, they were all documentaries or documentary shorts. Meet John Doe stars Gary Cooper as John Doe “Willoughby”, a bush league pitcher with a “bad wing” that needs an operation for him to fulfill his dream of making it to the Majors. You may know from prior Blogs that my Mom was my classic movie mentor. Mom always loved Gary Cooper. Me, eh… regardless of his 2 Academy Awards for Best Actor for Sergeant York in 1942 and High Noon in ‘53, his 1961 Honorary Academy Award, and his 3 other Best Actor Oscar nominations for Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, his great performance as Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees, and alongside “The Greatest” Ingrid Bergman in For Whom the Bell Tolls….well let’s just say that Mommy knows best & leave it at that, okay? Cooper agreed to play John Doe without even reading script because he wanted to work with Capra again, especially since his co-star would be Barbara Stanwyck. And she’s fantastic in it. Her performance ranks as one of the 1982 Honorary Oscar Winner & 4-time Best Actress Nominee’s finest, including her most famous role as Phyllis in Billy Wilder’s film noir classic, Double Indemnity.
Meet John Doe takes place toward the end of The Great Depression. Willoughby hasn’t pitched in years. He’s homeless when he meets Stanwyck’s character, Ann Mitchell, a journalist who was just laid off in a big rift when the paper’s publisher, the heartless D.B. Norton played to perfection by Edward Arnold, hired hatchet man Henry Connell (Cuh-nell`) played by James Gleason to “clean house”. Sounds like a page taken right out of today’s Wall Street Journal, doesn’t it? When Connell tells her she won’t receive her last check until after she turns in her final column, she makes up a story about having received a letter from an anonymous John Doe who plans to commit suicide by jumping off the roof of City Hall at midnight on Christmas Eve in “protest against the state of civilization”. When the story runs & sparks interest, Connell & Ann begin their search for a John Doe to play out the scam. Meet John Doe was adapted from a story by Richard Connell & Robert Presnell and they were nominated for the now defunct Best Story Oscar in 1942 at the 14th Academy Awards. Triple Oscar winner Walter Brennan is great as The Colonel, John’s best friend since they met riding the rails together over 2 years earlier.
I always been a big fan of movie soundtracks. Meet John Doe’s composer was the brilliant Dimitri Tiomkin. Tiomkin won 4 Academy Awards, including 2 at the Silver Anniversary Oscars for Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon, which starred Gary Cooper: Best Original Song for the title piece; and Best Score for a Drama or Comedy. He was also nominated for an incredible 18 additional Oscars. Meet John Doe’s score is delightful, and Tiomkin incorporates vamps of many classic tunes in it. Listen for: Take Me Out to the Ballgame; Beer Barrel Polka; Oh! Susanna; William Tell Overture; Three Blind Mice; For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow; The Farmer in the Dell; I’ve Been Working on the Railroad; The Battle Hymn of the Republic; and America.
I’ve linked the full version of this wonderful bag of Capra-Corn below. It’s just over 2 hours long and easily a 3-Star film. So when you get have a couple free hours, take a look & see just how relevant Frank Capra’s 72 year old classic, Meet John Doe, is today!