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.


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