Thursday, September 18, 2014

MY YEAR WITH CAPRA CHALLENGE #2

SEPTEMBER "Meet John Doe"


For the next movie in the Year With Capra Challenge is yet another ingenious gem. John Doe has long been used as a reference for an unidentified male. In Meet John Doe (1941) Frank Capra utilized this concept in an association to the struggling average American. Much like today, the average citizen is financially burdened and latent with delusions from media as well as corrupt political agendas.

So far the "pluck" that Capra is well known for is evident within his bold stance in calling out political injustices, the manipulative nature of the media, and by far my favorite the human character. He has a keen eye for small details and what makes the characters tick with heart and soul. Pitting those insurmountable odds against the human spirit and showing that spirit struggle to do what is right (the pluck), something everyone can learn from.


Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) is a journalist who was just fired (by a whistle) after the newspaper, The Bulletin (free press) she had been working for was taken over by The New Bulletin (streamlined era). In a desperate attempt to keep her job she confronts the new editor who informs her that the newspaper requires "fireworks" to gain circulation. After he refuses to keep her on, he also instructs that she has to submit her column before she leaves. Her fiery wit ignites as she creates a John Doe who is tired of the unjust measures of society and informs the journalist of his demise, by jumping off of a roof in protest.

When the column gets political attentions Mitchell strikes a deal with her editor to create the rue. The manipulation begins as they have to find their John Doe to play the part. Mitchell creates the entire scheme for Doe to gain the media spotlight clenching her new contract and regaining her position with favor. Now, they just have to find their John Doe. Conveniently for them many struggling men arrive claiming that they are in fact John Doe. Now, all they have to do is to pick which one will best suit their needs. 


Enter John Willoughby (Gary Cooper) a man that use to play ball in the minor leagues and after he hurt his shoulder or as he calls it his "wing" he hasn't been able to find much work and is traveling with his friend The Colonel. In today's era we would refer to them as living off grid, back then they would have been considered hobo's. Either way, Capra draws those slight attentions to his embarrassment of being looked over as the editor and Mitchell eye him up as a contender, in a marvelous manner. Instantly Gary Cooper's eyes captivated me and grasped within to grab hold of my empathy for his position and what he was going through. I loved the interactions and his portrayal of humility. This movie has definitely made me a huge Gary Cooper fan.

Mitchell is convinced that he's the perfect All American man who can convince the masses of her story and gain celebrity attention from the people. Over seven decades later and the basic outline of the story can still be found within the fundamental structure of society today. What is at the core of this structure? Necessity, greed and money. Mitchell needs money to keep her family and those she support within their lifestyles, while you have the poor who out of necessity agrees to something that may be against their better judgment in an essence of survival, and the greed of political agenda (which we'll get to). This further escalates as the celebrity gained is then manipulated for political reasons.


One of my favorite characters is The Colonel. He's the conscious of the story. The Colonel has been John's friend and tries to tell him that this isn't right. My favorite is his theory how money changes a person. He's trying to warn his friend to the dangers he's heading toward. The Colonel can see the rabbit hole but, it might be too late. John only wants to get his shoulder fixed so he can return to Baseball, not even fully understanding the damages his situation is going to impend on his future. The Colonel tries to warn him in his way. My favorite is his definition of the "He Lots" the people with money who are never happy with what they have. We see it all the time, as a nation of consumers it can be inevitable in our society, you have to work to sustain a life, in order to work you need one thing such as a car, which then you'll need insurance, taxes, fees and more. One thing leads to more and more and your desire to get more and more money to have those things. As The Colonel explains the "He Lots" are a lot of people who become heels.

The villainous political aspect of the movie comes into play as  D.B. Norton (Edward Arnold). A politician backing the story and who has hired Mitchell personally to write John Doe speeches as he tours the country gaining his celebrity of the people. Other news outlets know that Doe is a fraud and he is nearly tempted to take their offer of outing the rue, until Mitchell convinces him to deliver his speech. Even if John Doe doesn't know it, he has feelings for the conniving woman behind his demise (whether she directly knows it or not).


Further down the rabbit hole they go, it's alluded that Mitchell starts a relationship with Norton's nephew or son who is a man in uniform. Someone who can manipulate and control Mitchell, who has been cleverly composing the speeches that rally the people to inspire to follow Doe to stand together and to care for one another. Doe himself believes in the speeches, which are not all together a farce. Mitchell uses her deceased father's journals to guide her crusade to unite the people to follow her John Doe. As they do, Norton funds the John Doe Fan Clubs across America.

Mitchell to Doe: "Your a pitcher John, now go in there and pitch!"
It was hard for me to like Mitchell because of her manipulation of the quiet and gentle Doe. After he delivers the speech he feels like the heel that his friend The Colonel warned him about. After the speech they duck out and make their way back to what they know, life on the street. When they stop in a shop he's recognized and his celebrity comes out as he discovers the John Doe Club. A great find within the movie is Sterling Holloway who portrayed the son working the counter in the shop. John and The Colonel stopped in to get a bite to eat. When he's discovered they flee the shop and end up at the towns City Hall where they are being held until Mitchell and Norton arrive and further manipulate the unsuspecting John with the plight to fight for the good of man. What Norton really means to do is to use John's celebrity and popularity for his future political gain.


John meets the club and starts to believe in the messages and the truth within the speeches. Meeting the people he's impacting puts the personal touch on what started out as something very fake, now it has heart and soul and moves people to follow the messages of helping one another. There is one stipulation within the club; no politics. When Doe and Mitchell go on tour, they spend a lot of time together and it's obvious how much he's nuts over her, it's adorable. She admits that she's a heel for leading him on and using him on this mission. There are so many great scenes that give great psychological insight into the characters. Such as the scene where John is telling Mitchell about his dream he had about her. He says that he was her father in the dream; this is because he's delivering the speeches that she's written based off of her father's beliefs. It goes on further and it was amazing to me, then again there is always something to what we dream.

Mitchell is a heel, Norton buys her expensive things and impresses her and then delivers the blow of his political gain from the John Doe he has built. When John is due to deliver a speech in front of all the John Doe Club divisions at a convention, the editor of the paper diverts his body guards to whisk him away to get a drink with John. The editor asks John is he's read the speech that he's due to deliver. When the editor finds out that he hasn't he sends someone to retrieve a copy as he starts to explain a few things to John. I love this scene. It's an endearing scene where he discusses his weakness and makes us realize, we all have a weakness. Two for two, both Capra films I've seen so far have these perfect scenes with great talent, perfect writing, and great delivery; timeless to the human character. It's the editor who tells him about Norton's meeting. John goes to Norton's home to confront him when he crashes a meeting in progress.

John stays somewhat hidden so he's able to hear what Norton's ulterior motives are. Norton's plan is also clenching the 90 percent of the "John Doe" votes; they already consider themselves victorious. When they praise Mitchell for her part in all of this (which she explains she didn't know what was going on, which is hard to believe of such an intelligent woman). John does a great job of pointing out to her how she's been bought. He confronts the meeting and proclaims that he's going to call them all out tearing up the speech. Norton threatens him and exposes the scam by media manipulation. Back then they sent gangs of newspaper boys through the convention with the newspaper calling out John Doe as a fake; today they would have trolls on social media outlets igniting those flames. Either way, the tinder smokes as people boo and call out rants until he's escorted out and ends the John Doe Movement (of good will) how quickly his supporters turned. 

Mitchell's beside herself as she's comforted by her mother. John retreats with his friend the Colonel to lick his wounds. The media runs wild tearing apart what was built as it haunts John. Christmas comes and as the original letter stated, he was going to jump from a building. As the characters contemplate the possibility of John actually going through with the pretend letter, they all converge where he was suppose to jump from. With a great ending. Originally Capra shot four different endings and were tested and deemed unsatisfactory during previews and test screenings. "A letter from an audience member suggested a fifth ending, which [Capra] liked and used in the finished film" (IMDb, Meet John Doe).


Overall, what won me over the most in this movie was Gary Cooper. When I imagine a gentleman, his performance is top shelf. A very small part of the movie, when John goes to visit Mitchell at her home and visits with her mother, there is a scene with the family dog. It's true, you can judge a person by how the dog interacts with them. It has been my experience if a dog doesn't like a person, there is usually a reason behind it. In this scene the dog seemed to saddle up to John, this confirmed what I already knew in the movie, John's a good nut. From when we first meet him as John Willoughby, to when Mitchell is fussing over his new appearance and he's enjoying the attention, to the end scene when he takes Mitchell in his arms, he delivers with great charm and decades later, has even captivated this jaded heart. The movie is full of great scenes, you'll love, you'll hate and at the end you'll have a little more faith in humanity.


Watch the entire movie on YouTube by clicking here.

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