A Most Sublime Piece of "Capra-Corn" with Cooper and Arthur
Ed Uyeshima | San Francisco, CA USA | 12/26/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is "Capra-corn" at its most sublime as this 1936 comedy is still one of the legendary director's best works due primarily to the sterling, career-defining performances of Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur. In the 1930's and 40's, Frank Capra's oeuvre was the humanistic picture, inspirational to the common folk reeling from the Great Depression and later World War II. Written by his frequent (and later quite embittered) collaborator, Robert Riskin, this was his first film fully in this direction after his Oscar-winning success with the quintessential runaway heiress comedy, 1934's It Happened One Night. It's intriguing to know that Capra only made this film because he could not start production on the far more ambitious Lost Horizon as scheduled and fit this in only when Cooper became available for the title role.
Cooper portrays Longfellow Deeds, a young poet and volunteer fireman in a small Vermont town who suddenly inherits $20 million, a huge fortune at the time, from a distant uncle who died in an automobile crash in Italy. Having never been outside of his hometown, Deeds is thrust into the limelight and moves to Manhattan to take care of his uncle's estate and related business interests. The first half has all the trappings of a "fish out of water" situation (which Capra pretty much perfected with this film), but it doesn't take Deeds long to figure out that the people around him are not as sincere as they want him to think. One exception, he believes, is Mary Dawson, a small-town girl looking for a job before she faints from hunger. He falls in love with her not realizing that she is really ace reporter Babe Bennett out to land a juicy newspaper story about Deeds' "Cinderella Man" exploits. Tired of the selfish cynicism surrounding him, Deeds gives away his fortunes to establish a program to help poor farmers. In response, his advisors attempt to have him put away for insanity.
Previously a stoic straight arrow in primarily westerns and female-oriented weepies, Cooper emerges here as a multi-dimensional leading man with a deft comedy touch, while the throaty-voiced Arthur (in a role abandoned by no less than Carole Lombard) shows her natural élan as a tough newspaperwoman who discovers her vulnerability thanks to Deeds' magnanimous gestures. It's no wonder these two returned to Capra's hands in subsequent features - he in Meet John Doe, she in You Can't Take It With You and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The top-notch supporting cast is headed by Lionel Stander as Deeds' confidante (a role similar to the agent he played in the 1937 A Star Is Born); H.B. Warner as the sympathetic Judge May (who would later return to Capra for Lost Horizon as the wizened Chang and for It's A Wonderful Life as the drunken druggist who slaps George on his deaf ear); and Douglass Dumbrille as the nasty Cedar. The remastered 2008 DVD has a scene-specific commentary track, fairly interesting, from the director's son, Frank Capra, Jr., who is also featured in a ten-minute short about the film. Several vintage trailers of the senior Capra's films are included though surprisingly not one for Deeds."
Good, heart-warming story
Joseph D. Goss | Pine Bluff, AR United States | 11/28/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I had seen "Mr. Deeds," the remake of this movie several times before I purchased this DVD. I wondered if they would be so much alike that I wouldn't get much out of seeing the original. The broad story line is roughly the same, but there are enough differences between the two plots to make the original very interesting and entertaining. "Mr.Deeds Goes to Town" is a heart-warming movie that is also very funny, but without the crude humour of its succesor. I highly recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys watching movies like "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.""
Utterly delightful romantic/social comedy
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 06/06/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I love Frank Capra's 1930s films. They are on the one hand so clearly products of their time, which was the period of the New Deal and a sense of optimism and idealism about whether America could overcome its problems and bring about a better life for most Americans. And, it was the period of time immediately preceding WW II, which transformed America in general so profoundly, and no one less than Frank Capra. By his own admission, the war brought about a shift in Capra's social and political vision, from a Leftist position to a Rightist one. After the war, Capra was able to duplicate his pre-War success only once, with IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Later in life, in his autobiography and after moving back to a leftist political position, Capra acknowledged that his shift to the Right marred his cinematic vision, and ruined him as a filmmaker.
On one level, MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN is easy to criticize. It does espouse simplistic, naive beliefs about society and politics. It is anti-capitalist, whereas Capra's post-WW II films (excepting IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE) were pro-business. The film does seem to suggest that there are simple answers to enormously complex problems. All this, however, enchants me. I wish that we today had not lost this capacity to have simple, goodhearted beliefs.
Once one moves away from the social and political elements in this film, which are nonetheless quite strong (and the sentiments expressed here helped give rise to what is frequently referred to as "Capra-corn"), one is left with a delightful, funny, and inspiring romantic comedy. Could any actor in the history of film have been more perfect as Longfellow Deeds? Well, perhaps Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda (certainly not Adam Sandler). But even those two stellar actors would have fallen short of Cooper in communicating his abject indifference to his fate during his trial late in the film. Having him in that role was a perfect bit of casting. Jean Arthur, one of Capra's two favorite actresses, was perfect as Babe Bennett (though his other favorite actress, Barbara Stanwyck, might have been even more perfect). The two make a perfect team: the idealistic, naive, and good hearted Deeds (though completely intolerant of bunk) and the cynical, cold hearted, manipulative undercover reporter whose heart is melted and transformed by Deeds. In a supporting role, Lionel Stander is outstanding.
All in all, this is just a great film, and stands as one of Capra's finest efforts, definitely one of the five or six classic films he made upon which his reputation will always be preserved.
There is an absolutely excreble version of the film, with Adam Sandler playing Deeds. The film is beyond than embarrassing. There are two reasons to engage in a remake. First, an earlier film contains excellent premises, but executed its own concepts poorly. Thus, a remake provides an opportunity to get it right. The 1941 version of THE MALTESE FALCON was actually a remake of an earlier version of the novel. The second reason to undertake a remake is when the filmmakers have no interesting or inventive ideas of their own, and pilfer those of others to rake in some box office. Since the original MR. DEEDS would be extremely difficult to improve upon, one wonders if this film is an example of reason number two. I should add that there is a third reason to engage in a remake: love of a previous film and to try and pay homage by remaking it. I believe that this is the case with the unsuccessful remake by Mel Brooks of TO BE OR NOT TO BE (why try to remake a perfect film?), the more successful CAPE FEAR (which was nearly as good as the original), or the high tech remake of PLANET OF THE APES.
Bit of trivia: This was the only film that Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur made together. In 1942 Hitchcock wanted to reunite the two of them in SABOTEUR. He was unsuccessful; however, and instead cast Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane in the leads. The film today, despite some amazing scenes, is usually criticized for its very weak stars. One wonders how successful that film would have been if Hitchcock had managed to get the Gary and Jean.
Second bit of trivia: Jean Arthur, although she always looks very calm and self-possessed, suffered from almost debilitating screen fright, frequently becoming nauseous before or during shooting. In fact, her career eventually ended when she was doing a stage version of BORN YESTERDAY, playing the Judy Holliday role. During the middle of the play, the stress became too much for her. She was unable to return to finish the play, and except for a unsuccessful attempt at a TV sitcom, her career was over."
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
Constance Nichols | Saint Paul, MN USA | 11/01/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have seen Mr. Deeds Goes to Town several times and each time I find something else to love about it. Gary Cooper couldn't have been better and Jean Arthur as always, is wonderful. Every movie lover has got to have this movie as part of their collection."