Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mr. Deeds Goes To Town

 Mr. Deeds Goes To Town is a 1936 film directed by Frank Capra, and based on serialised story, Opera Hat, by Clarence Bedington Kelland. In its day it was considered a comedy, but we today would view it as more a rom/com than a straight out comedy. It stars Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur and on its release Mr. Deeds was well received, being named best film of 1936. Its success rolled over to Oscar success as well with Frank Capra winning Best Director. Nominations also came for Best Picture, Best Screenplay,  Best Sound Recording, and Best Actor for Gary Cooper, his first of five.

 In the scheme of things Mr Deeds has been somewhat overshadowed by Capra's 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Mr. Smith is of course now regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. But the remarkable thing about Mr. Smith is that it is almost a carbon copy of Mr Deeds in premise. Both films use the idea of a hick, yokel, hillbilly, Daniel Boone ( call him what you will ) type character, who is thrown into a situation he is well over his head in. Why Capra made two films with the same premise so close together I haven't been able to discover. But I have read a snippet that points to the idea Capra had in mind a trilogy.

  Suffice to say the premised trilogy never eventuated. So all we are left with is, why Mr Deeds and then Mr Smith? The sad thing is that Mr Smith is now considered the superior film, and yet I really don't think one is better than the other. Gary Cooper as Longfellow Deeds is superb as is James Stewart as Jefferson Smith. I've watched both films within a week of each other and can't decide who of the two put in the better performance. Cooper at the time was the bigger name and it was the role of Smith that made Stewart a star.

 And then there is Jean Arthur, who before last week, I had never heard of!! Well after these two films I sure know who she was. I can't believe that she is now somewhat obscure when actresses of her era are mentioned, ( even though she is considered the queen of screwball comedy ). In Mr Smith I thought she was brilliant as the sassy, intelligent, and super sexy Clarissa Saunders. I cannot believe her performance didn't receive an Oscar nomination at least. It is one of the most outstanding female performances you could hope to watch, and Saunders is an outstanding, enduring character.

The stunning Jean Arthur as Mary Dawson.
 In Mr Deeds Arthur got her first feature role. This even though she had been in film since 1923. Her role as Louise "Babe" Bennett/Mary Dawson isn't quite that of Saunders, but she is till a sassy sexy character. I liked her in both roles and it is hard to believe she was 36 in Mr Deeds!! I mean she looks 10 years younger!! But that was the power of black and white which used camera angles and lighting to project actors in more favorable ways. Either way at 36 Jean Arthur was still a stunning woman with the most beautiful smile you could ever hope to see!!

 If you don't believe me then watch the scene where she is using a trash can as a drum. She almost cracks up ( no kidding, she almost loses control of herself ) which only adds to a wonderful scene. But that smile...my god it could melt even the coldest of hearts! But for all that she is more often than not forgotten about when the film is mentioned. But Arthur wasn't Capra's first choice for the role. Foul mouthed Carole Lombard actually had the role but walked out on it 3 days before principal shooting began! Thank goodness because we got the more appealing Arthur.

 ( On an off note Jean Arthur was part of the last four finalists left in the search for a certain Scarlett O'Hara. She certainly had the looks, and one wonders where her career would have gone if she had got the part ).

 But even without the more established Lombard Jean Arthur is wonderful as a tough journalist, who weaves her way into the soft hearted Longfellow Deed's life, whilst mocking his eccentric ways in her newspaper articles. She dubs him 'The Cinderella Man', and yet suddenly finds he is a nice guy and she has fallen for him. In the process she has a morality check, as she sees the results behind her actions, as Deed's life and character is destroyed. She rectifies her wrongs in the film's closing court scene with Deeds coming in and sweeping her up in his arms in the climatic scenes ( this was the era of happy endings after all! ).

 Gary Cooper is superb as the the eccentric Longfellow Deeds. As a character he is totally under-estimated by those who haul him off to New York. He is ripped out of his happy life in Vermont, and thrown into the jungle of avarice, and greed of the big smoke. But he is no fool and he quickly establishes a reputation as being a good judge of character. He has no real interest in the huge fortune he has been left, quickly finding it a burden, if not an outright curse.

The funny thing about Cooper's performance is that he reminded me of Robin William's, as Mork, in 1980's sitcom Mork and Mindy. He spoke and sounded exactly like Williams as Mork did. I closed my eyes and could picture Williams, so close were the two. I now wonder if the naive Mork is actually modeled on that of Cooper's Deeds. Cooper's Oscar nomination was well deserved and he plays the likeable, eccentric Deeds to perfection. Whatever Cooper was like off screen, he is so likeable on screen in this role.

 In the film's court scene it certainly goes badly for Deeds, and the viewer can't help but feel empathy for this kind big hearted man. He is in court through the greed and embezzlements of others, and his character is totally assassinated. I really felt angry when the judge turns to him, stating if he had nothing to say, then he would be committed to a loony bin as he was 'clearly'' an ill man. But then the highlight of the film comes. He stands up and defends himself in his own inimitable style, winning the court over. Then he gets satisfaction by punching out the arsehole lawyer, who landed him in court to cover his own financial wrong doings.

 As a comedy Mr. Deeds has dated somewhat, as comedy is won't to do. But it still has some good moments that still wrung a laugh out of me. The thing though is that whilst a 1930's comedy, Mr Deeds is also a film about morality, and in particular, the freedom of the press. Frank Capra has produced a film that questions the judgements and motivations of the press, and how it can unduly influence opinions. Jean Arthur as a reporter plays it perfectly as she sees the results of her slanderous articles on a decent man.

 That is the whole point of the film. Capra hides it well behind a light hearted air. As a film it is now overshadowed by Mr Smith Goes To Washington, yet I don't really think the is much between the two films. Both have the same moral tone, and really who's performance can be judged the better between Cooper and Stewart!! Jean Arthur is magnificent and surely an actress that is now somewhat overlooked? She is wonderful as Mary Dawson, and if anything she topped that role with her lovable turn as Saunders.

 This is a lovely film with a big heart. It does without foul language, gratuitous nudity, sex, or graphic blood letting. The message is as valid today as it was 75 years ago. Gary Cooper, as the back woods boy, is so likeable it is difficult not to go in and bat for him. But for me Jean Arthur is the standout as the beautiful journalist who has a total change of moral heart and direction. She's a neat character, and believe me you'll just fall in love with her smile...it's a cracker!! Oh dear, I think I've developed a silly schoolboy crush on her!!

Click here for a synopsis and more:

And click here for more on the lovely Jean Arthur:


  1. I, for one, liked Mr Smith better than Mr Deeds but the latter is also enjoyable and undoubtedly kind-hearted. As for Jean Arthur, she is a classy lady of old Hollywood. I guess I first saw her in A Foreign Affair by Billy Wilder. You should check that comedy out, where she is co-starring Marlene Dietrich.

  2. I like them both and can't really see a difference in quality. Jean Arthur was certainly a classy actress! Like many classcis A Foreign Affair is just one I will get around to one day!