Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Movie Review - Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

In my movie reviews, I give my brief thoughts on what I watched. Sometimes I will expound on those thoughts, but more often than not, I will just give a brief opinion. You can read plot descriptions on Internet Movie Database or on Amazon.

Watch one of the funniest scenes in Mr. Deeds Goes to town right here:

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), stars Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur. Arthur is a Capra staple, having appeared in several of his film. She was even considered for the role of Mary in It's a Wonderful Life.

In Mr. Deeds, Arthur plays a newspaper reporter. The newspaper was a theme, topic, and tool that occurred repeatedly in Capra’s films, including The Power of the Press (1928), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Meet John Doe (1941), and Arsenic and Old Lace (1944).

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town  was Capra’s first “Mr.” movie. It was followed in 1939 by Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, starring Jimmy Stewart. Stewart later went on to star other non-Capra "Mr." films, including Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962) and Mr. Krueger’s Christmas (1988).

In Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, the main character, Longfellow Deeds, portrayed by Gary Cooper, lives in Mandrake Falls, invoking the word “Falls” in a town name, which will be repeated in Bedford Falls. The name Longfellow Deeds is similar to “Long” John Willoughby in Meet John Doe, which also starred Cooper in the title role. Deeds is a little eccentric, like the Sycamore family in You Can’t Take it With You. He plays the tuba for entertainment, and to help him think. While not rich, he also has a housekeeper, a character who also appears in You Can’t Take it With You and It’s a Wonderful Life.

As the recipient of a $20 million inheritance, Deeds in unfazed when he receives the news, replying, “I wonder why he left me all that money. I don’t need it.” Deeds is a simple man, though the employees of the law firm of Cedar, Cedar, Cedar and Buddington, along with the people who he meets in the big city, are not. Before he leaves for a new, fancy lifestyle, the residents of Mandrake Falls hold a parade for Deeds. During that parade, the band plays “Auld Lang Syne,” which Capra will reprise for use in the final scene of It’s a Wonderful Life. Despite the fact that the parade is intended to honor him, Deeds grabs his tuba and joins in the performance, showing that he is a common man, no different than the other residents of Mandrake Falls. When the train pulls away, taking Deeds to his new life, he looks out at the throng of people celebrating his good fortune and comments, “Gosh, I’ve got a lot of friends.”

Longfellow Deeds’ foil is Louise “Babe” Bennett (Jean Arthur), a reporter for a newspaper focused more on the bottom line than the truth of the stories it prints. In order to get the story on Deeds, Bennett takes on the persona on Mary Dawson (Capra has many characters named Mary), who befriends Deeds.

Bennett/Dawson takes Deeds on a tour of New York City. Just as Mr. Smith traveled around Washington, D.C. and reflected on the meaning of the sights he saw, Mr. Deeds does the same in New York City after visiting General Grant’s tomb. Deeds reflects on the Civil War, and how it was “the beginning of a new nation like Abraham Lincoln said. And I can see that Ohio boy (Grant) being inaugurated as president. Things like that can only happen in a country like America.”

As Deeds and Bennett get to know each other, they begin to fall in love, even though Bennett continues to use her false identity and writes sensational news stories about Deeds. Eventually, he tries to propose to “Mary,” in a scene that is different from, but carries the same sentiment as the phone scene in It’s a Wonderful Life. Deeds runs away and trips over garbage cans in a scene that will be re-used in It’s a Wonderful Life when Uncle Billy takes a similar trip off-camera.

Another borrowed element that will show up during the bank run in It’s a Wonderful Life occurs when Deeds meets with an opera group. During the meeting, a fire truck passes the building where they are meeting, and Deeds runs to a window to watch it pass. The customers of the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan will do this in It’s a Wonderful Life in a scene filmed eleven years later. Something similar also happened in another Capra film, American Madness.

There are many quotes, phrases and themes that are carried over between Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Capra’s other films. In Mr. Deeds, the title character asks, “What puzzles me is why people seem to get so much pleasure out of…hurting each other. Why don’t they try liking each other once in awhile?” He later says, “People here are funny. They work so hard at living, they forgot how to live.”

At one point in the film, Mr. Deeds is berated by a poor farmer for feeding donuts to a horse and holding a party while other people are starving. The farmer reminds Mr. Deeds that he can’t take it with him, which is a theme that showed up as a Capra movie title in 1938, and also on a plaque in George Bailey's office in It's a Wonderful Life.

Deeds is taken to court by his attorneys in an attempt to prove his incompetence and take over control of his money. However, the people in the courtroom stand up for Mr. Deeds, which is another element we later see in You Can’t Take it With You, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Meet John Doe, in which groups of people come together to support a downtrodden main character who is at his breaking point.

Capra's creativity seems not to come from his ability to create something new. His creativity is his ability to take multiple themes, phrases, concepts, feelings, and make an entire list of films that look at those ideas from different angles.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Movie Review - Meet John Doe

In my movie reviews, I give my brief thoughts on what I watched. Sometimes I will expound on those thoughts, but more often than not, I will just give a brief opinion. You can read plot descriptions on Internet Movie Database or on Amazon.

Meet John Doe, starring Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, and Walter Brennan. 1941.

During the course of It's a Wonderful Life, a desperate George Bailey is saved by one crisis by an angel, and later saved from a second crisis by family and friends.

Director Frank Capra originally examined the idea of a desperate man saved by his friends and family in his 1941, in his film Meet John Doe.

The film is about Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck), who, in protest over being fired from the newspaper where she works, writes a letter from “John Doe,” who threatens to commit suicide on Christmas Eve due to perceived social ills. Mitchell gets her job back and hires “Long” John Willoughby (Gary Cooper) to portray the fictional John Doe, so the newspaper can profit from the support Mitchell’s fake letter received when it was printed.

The newspaper is a theme, topic and tool that occurs repeatedly in Capra’s films, including The Power of the Press (1928), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Meet John Doe (1941), and Arsenic and Old Lace (1944).

While a newspaper played a role in telling the story of George's brother Harry, It’s a Wonderful Life draws a great deal of direction and other inspiration from Meet John Doe.

As the film progresses, people across the country create chapters of the John Doe Club, which supports the ideals purportedly created by “Long” John Willoughby. While he does believe in those ideals, there is a problem: He did not create the initial push for the support of them. Instead, being down on his luck, Willoughby was paid to become the character of John Doe and to claim the thoughts and ideals as his own. Payment for that acting job came in the form of money and a posh place to stay.

His friend, The Colonel (Walter Brennan), warned Willoughby that he was becoming a “Helot” – someone who is more concerned with money and comfort than the truth – but Willoughby ignores the warnings. Eventually, he realizes that The Colonel was correct, and becomes despondent over the lie he is living, and that people are falling for it and coming in droves (in mobs?) to see him, as if he were a movie star. It is an interesting exercise to watch this happen and compare it to the modern American craze to idolize people who are not stars, but famous "personalities" and stalk them through "reality" TV shows.

Distraught over the lie, Willoughby decides that he really will commit suicide on Christmas Eve, and threatens to jump off of the high rise that houses the newspaper office. He writes his own letter addressed to “All John Does.”

While standing on the ledge, he pulls the letter out of his trench coat pocket. It is a combination of scenes that we will see a few years later in It’s a Wonderful Life. Capra will have George Bailey pull his life insurance policy out of his overcoat, and later in the film, George will stand on the bridge, on Christmas Eve, with snow falling around him, on the brink of suicide.

While Ann cannot convince Willoughby not to jump, Capra invokes the It’s a Wonderful Life image of the “whole town” coming to support him. It is similar to when seemingly all of the residents of Bedford Falls (except Potter) cram into the Bailey home and give George money to save the building and loan.

There are many other connections between Meet John Doe and It’s a Wonderful Life. The antagonist in Meet John Doe is D.B. Norton (Edward Arnold), whose name is somewhat similar in form to Henry F. Potter due to the constant presence of the initials. The same is true of Arnold’s other Capra film character, Anthony P. Kirby, in You Can’t Take it With You. Speaking of Potter, Willoughby is told that if he jumps, he will be stripped of identification and buried in a Potter’s Field. A reference to Potter’s Field, along with the character of Potter, also appear in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Near the end of Meet John Doe, one character apologizes for the actions of the club members, saying, “We just lost our heads and acted like a mob.” This mob mentality has been seen before in American Madness and will be seen again in It’s a Wonderful Life. In both of those cases, the mob action takes place during bank runs.

To cap off the comparison of these two films, both of them end with the image of bells ringing.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Photo Friday - Bells Part 39

Welcome back to Photo Friday. Here, I post one or more photos each Friday. I will do my best to relate it to It's a Wonderful Life.

This entry features Risingsun Village Hall in Risingsun, OH. The photos were taken March 29, 2015.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My Collection Part 9 - CD-Rom

Here is a copy of It's a Wonderful Life on CD-Rom. It runs on a PC, and from it you can watch the film, read the script, and I think you can even read The Greatest Gift. I don't remember now. It's been a while since I got it out.

It's a two-disc set. I have two copies of it. I bought one in the late 1990s. I stumbled across another copy in the bargain dump bin at a local computer shop in the early 2000s for $5 or something, and I snatched up that copy, as well.

Front of the box, liner notes, and CD-Rom.
Source: Blogger's collection

Back of the box.
Source: Blogger's collection

Friday, January 15, 2016

Photo Friday - Bells Part 38

Welcome back to Photo Friday. Here, I post one or more photos each Friday. I will do my best to relate it to It's a Wonderful Life.

This week's entry is a bell dated 2007. It has the same design on the other side. This is a Christmas Tree decoration that has been on our tree since....well...2007. This photo was taken in late November, 2015.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Book Review - It's a Wonderful Life for Kids!

In my book reviews, I give my brief thoughts on what I read. Sometimes I will expound on those thoughts, but more often than not, I will just give a brief opinion. I could go into detail about what the book is about, but a lot of people have already done that. You can read their descriptions of the book, plus the official description on Amazon.

It's a Wonderful Life for Kids was written in celebration the film's 65th anniversary.

The author, Jimmy Hawkins, played the youngest Bailey child, Tommy. So naturally, the story focuses on his character.

Hawkins says in the Author's Note that, "I wanted to show young readers that everyone's life, no matter how old he or she may be, makes a difference."

It's a great message. Tommy gets his own story, pulling in characters we know and love like Mr. Gower, George Bailey, Clarence and Zuzu. There also are characters who are mentioned in the film but never make an appearance until this book. Mrs. Welch is one of those characters. Mrs. Carter, the wife of the bank examiner, is another. Also, one of Tommy's childhood friends is named Nick, like the bartender. Only fans of the film would pick up on these names.

While Tommy gets his own unique story, other sections, like scenes in Heaven, and scenes involving Tommy's guardian angel, Arthur, borrow entire sections of dialogue ... sometimes word for word ... from the film. A small part of me says this is lazy writing. Another part of me says it's a great way to introduce a new generation to the film and build recognition for the first time they watch it with mom and dad.

Overall, I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Where did they learn that?

Art Linkletter and Bill Cosby (pre-drama) both hosted a show called "Kids Say the Darndest Things."

It's so true, and my kids are no exception. Below are some crazy things my kids have said since 2010. This is by far not a complete list, but these are some of the things that got my attention at a time where I could either write it down here or share it on social media and recreate it here.

For as much of a challenge as raising two boys can be sometimes...especially when one of them isn't around as much as I wish he could be, what you are about to read below helps keep the laughter alive in our home. Its effect on me is similar to George Bailey reuniting with his family at the end of It's a Wonderful Life. I hope these make you smile, as well.

June 17, 2010: 
The (then) 20-month-old: (Climbing up on his high chair) I eat.
Me: Are you hungry?
The (then) 20-month-old: Horny!

December 1, 2012:
The (then) 4-year-old: When mommy grows up, she will be the princess. When I grow up, I will be the princess's Iron Man. When you grow up, you can be the princess's prince.
Me: What about your brother? What will he be when he grows up?
The (then) 4-year-old: Um....He'll be Bob.

December 3, 2012:
The (then) 4-year-old: Mom, count to Spanish. I got to uno.

July 8, 2013: (While fishing)
The (then) 4-year-old: "We're fishing 'cuz we need fish sticks."

July 8, 2013:
The (then) 4-year-old: (After his 9-year-old brother explains triple-a baseball and the difference between major league and minor league baseball) "Ugh. You make me tired."

December 15, 2013:
The (then) 5-year-old: (Sung in musical mash-up style) "Thumpety-thump-thump; It's what the fox say!"

December 23, 2013:
The (then) 5-year-old: My wiener hurts.
Me: It does?
The (then) 5-year-old: Yeah. It hurts when I pee. It's called Pee-Hurt-Itis.

March 16, 2014:
The (then) 5-year-old: What is a jukebox?
My wife: It plays music.
The (then) 5-year-old: I don't like the juice box.

March 16, 2014:
The (then) 5-year-old: My leg hurts. Can you kiss my leg pit?

June 1, 2014:
The (then) 5-year-old: "Blue jays and cardinals fight with their peckers."

June 3, 2014:
The (then) 5-year-old: "This chicken nugget tastes good with the stuff (breading) off of it. It tastes like chicken peeled."

June 10, 2014: (While driving past a cemetery)
The (then) 5-year-old: "There's the place we go to die."
Me: "Well, not exactly. You've already died when they bury you there."
The (then) 5-year-old: "Right. Mom....I'm going to be old like my dad before I die."

Fall 2014:
(while driving past his optometrist's office):
The 6-year-old: There's my eye dentist!

March 7, 2015:
The 6-year-old: "Why are you dropping me off at Uncle Ryan's?"
My Wife: "Because I have to go to work because somebody died" (she works in hospice).
The 6-year-old: "You just let let people die? I do NOT want a mom who just lets people die."

March 11, 2015:
The 6-year-old: Is that a water biome?
Me: Yes. How do you know what a biome is?
The 6-year-old: Minecraft.

March 15, 2015:
The Wife: "I'm happy to see you playing with your Legos instead of playing on your iPad."
The 6-year-old: "Yeah. I'm doing it for old time's sake."

April 1, 2015 (wishing his brother was sitting in the back seat with him):
The 6-year-old: "I'm trying to beg him with my sad eyes."

April 1, 2015 (playing baseball)
The 6-year-old: "The ball hit my tummy bone."

April 1, 2015 (to his 11-year-old brother)
The 6-year-old: "Is your girlfriend hot? How hot is she? Is she burning?"

May 11, 2015 (as told by my wife):
The 6-year-old: "Mom, Mackenzie is my girlfriend."
The Wife: "Oh? And what does that mean exactly?"
The 6-year-old: "That she's my best friend that's a girl. ****Long pause****And we love each other"
Five minutes later...
The 6-year-old: " Mom, I know what making love is."
The Wife: *crickets*
The 6-year-old: "Do you?"
The Wife: pause pause pause.... "Yes? Can you tell me what that means?"
The 6-year-old: "It's where you hug and kiss and two hearts connect, and that's how you make love".
The Wife: "Yep."
The 6-year-old: "MOM!!! That means when WE HUG AND KISS WE'RE MAKING LOVE!!! Isn't that awesome?!?"
The Wife: *silently thanking God that we're in the car and NOT in public where that can be taken out of context* "Yep."

December 2, 2015:
The 12-year-old: I'm not going to be in choir next year. I mean, what are you supposed to do with your face?! How do you smile AND sing at the same time? It doesn't make sense!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Photo Friday - Bells Part 37

Welcome back to Photo Friday. Here, I one or more photos each Friday. I will do my best to relate it to It's a Wonderful Life.

This week, I focus on the dinner bell outside of the Wood County Historical Museum in Bowling Green, Ohio. The building was originally built in the 1860s as a poor farm. Read about its history here. One of their more unique displays is a glass jar containing the fingers of a woman murdered by her husband. I know. It's weird. Read about it and see pictures here. But don't come out looking for the fingers just yet. Currently the fingers are undergoing restoration work and plans are being made for a new display focusing on domestic violence. Check out the story about the restoration process here.

The photos of the bell below were taken September 26, 2015.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

My Collection Part 8 - Another Tear-Off-Calendar

Here is another page from another tear-off calendar that I had at one time. For me, this was a direct reference to It's a Wonderful Life, recalling the scene in front of the Granville House after the dance where George offers Mary the moon.

Source: Blogger's Collection

Monday, January 4, 2016

Movie Review - VeggieTales - It's a Meaningful Life

Leave it to VeggieTales to take a classic movie and put a home-grown, natural spin to it.

In VeggieTales: It's a Meaningful Life, Bob and Larry plow into some difficult material in an attempt to bring It's a Wonderful Life down to a level kids can appreciate. And at the end of the day, that is the message of the 50-minute movie: Appreciation. Or to put a finer point on it, contentment.

Stewart (playing off of Jimmy Stewart's role in It's a Wonderful Life, misses a catch during his last football game in high school. This, in itself, is a reference to the scene when George and Mary throw rocks at the Granville House. In that scene, George is wearing a football jersey.

Instead, Stewart's friend Mortie (a combination of Marty Hatch, Harry Bailey and Sam Wainwright) catches the football, becomes famous and leaves town.

Jealousy sets in for Stewart, and he obsesses over that missed catch for the rest of his life. Every time something doesn't go quite right, he complains, "if only I had caught that football...."

During one of these sessions in self-loathing while out on the football field, Stewart finds a ticket for The What-If Express. A train then mysteriously appears on the football field. It is a bit of surrealism on par with The Polar Express and Amazing Stories episode titled "Ghost Train."

Like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Stewart is escorted on three stops to see what would have happened if he really had caught the football. He is shown:
  1. Where he would be and what he would be doing
  2. Where the rest of his family and friends would be
  3. A choice to make: to stay in the World of What If or return to Rockwell and trust God's plan for him.
We all know what Stewart chooses.

The moral of the story for children is to be content with where you are, not where you wish you were. The moral for adults is, don't beat yourself up over past mistakes. Life is as good as you make it today. 

Sometimes, that lesson is easier to say than to do.

Even Zuzu's famous line, "every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings" gets a corny VeggieTales pun.

I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

VeggieTales: It's a Meaningful Life is available to watch right now (March, 2015) on Netflix and Amazon Prime. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Photo Friday - Bells Part 36

Welcome to Photo Friday. Don't tell me. I know....It's Saturday. Welcome to Photo Saturday, then. I'm only a day late. Yesterday was a really busy day!

Here, I one or more photos each Friday. I will do my best to relate it to It's a Wonderful Life.

This week's post is a new edition with some old bells. I hung an old shelf I had and put a portion of my bell collection on it. I have posted written about some of these bells in my past blogs, and I will write about the rest of them in future blogs. My bell collection officially started this year.