Sunday, May 24, 2009

5/18/09: Meet John Doe (1941)

Although I rank director Frank Capra's 1946 classic It's a Wonderful Life as among my very favorite movies, I have inexplicably failed to see many—or any—of his other films. That's why DVDs of It Happened One Night, You Can't Take It With You and today's feature have been piling up in my movie queue. Capra is one of the most famous and revered directors in American film history.

Meet John Doe is about how some newspaper people conspire to create a fictional story about a supposedly suicidal visionary and propel it to headline status. They draft hobo Gary Cooper to play the part of the would-be suicide, and the public eats up the daily stories about how a working-class everyman lost his faith in America, and his vision of how it must rebound. The ironic twist is that this cynical, fabricated contrivance results in people actually starting to be nice to their neighbors. Cooper finds himself caught between his real (John Willoughby) and fake (John Doe) personas, desperately wanting to play ball as the former and keep delighting the public as the latter. Throw in Barbara Stanwyck as the reporter who created the whole John Doe idea—and who starts to fall in love with Willoughby—and that's the essence of the picture. It's a fascinating story, and it kept me interested almost all the way through, until the letdown of the disappointing ending. Rating: 4/5.

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