Friday, January 1, 2010

Meet John Doe (1941)

Frank Capra directs Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper in this comedy-drama about the plight of the everyday man.

Barbara Stanwyck is Ann Mitchell, a feisty journalist whoi is fired from her job at the newspaper, saying her writing lacks "fireworks". So for her last article, she prints a fake letter she claims to have received from a "John Doe" an everyday man frustrated with society who is going to jump off City Hall on Christmas Eve at midnight in protest. The article sparks outrage as people are angered that a man is driven to such actions by society, but when the governor claims that the letter is a fake, Ann convinces the newspaper editor to hire someone to play John Doe and offer a articles in which John Doe argues for the plight of the common man. They find their John Doe in Long John Willoughby (Gary Cooper), a former Bush League pitcher who injured his arm and was forced to drop out.

What starts out as a scheme to sell newspaper begins to have a widespread effect, especially after a radio speech which Anne writes based on the ideals of her dead father, that men should know their neighbors and help eachother out. This causes the creation of John Doe clubs across the nation, where communities gather together to help one another. While Ann and John begin to fall in love, they're forced to deal with the situation of whether or not a movement based on honesty, generosity and integrity can survive if based on a lie.

The film itself is pretty good, never getting bogged down in one plotline and instead moving along several until the films ultimate conclusion. But it does have one issue that bugged me. Ann and John simply fall in love too fast. They have a working relationship, then we get a montage of John Doe clubs spreading across the country and suddenly John is head over heels in love with Ann. It hinted that Ann had feelings for John Doe, since he seemed to embody the ideals held by her father and John begins to take those on as he becomes passionate about the movement, but for John to fall in love with Ann so much, it feels a bit rushed. And since the latter parts of the film NEED to have the two in love, it seems like they just needed to have it happen without adding to the film's running time (which is over 2 hours).

Luckily, the two leads are more than capable. Barbara Stanwyck is wonderful as someone in love with money, falling in love with ideals, and then the man who represents these ideals. And much like Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper has to play someone not really invested in the whole John Doe movement, instead he's simply looking to make some money, but he too begins to fall in love with the movement and begins to truly feel as if he really is John Doe.

The film is a feel-good film that leaves you feeling happy, which is always nice, giving a message of hope in a world that is plagued with poverty, prejudice and hate. Plus, as I said, the two leads are great (But, Barbara Stanwyck is always great) and despite one issue, it's still a great little film.

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