MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (Frank Capra, 1936)

Beautifully written by Robert Riskin from a story by Clarence Budington Kelland, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town won Frank Capra the directorial Oscar. Both the New York critics and the National Board of Review named it the year’s best film.
     Why was the film considered so important? Correctly, Garbicz and Klinowski cite its association with the New Deal, its sense of “social solidarity and respect for the rights of the ordinary man.” Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper, charming, claiming here his greatest role), a small-town eccentric who writes postcard doggerel, inherits twenty million dollars. He is immediately targeted by greedy, corrupt parasites and the press, in particular, jaded columnist Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur, wonderful), who masquerades as a damsel-in-distress, a victim of the Depression, for Longfellow to rescue so as to get an inside view of the gallant, quick-fisted rube whom she dubs “the Cinderella Man.” (Damon Runyon had dubbed boxer James J. Braddock “the Cinderella Man” only months earlier.) But, of course, Longfellow’s sincerity wins Babe over; she falls in love. Meanwhile, Longfellow dedicates his new wealth to an ambitious New Deal-type plan of his own to help out the needy. He also is in love, but he feels betrayed when he finds out who Babe really is, and this causes him to withdraw into silence at his trial for mental competency. Longfellow Deeds must come out of the shadow of his self-sensitivity, prove his sanity and grab the love of a lifetime. Capra’s rousing romantic finale is overwhelming.
     Joseph Walker’s gorgeous black-and-white cinematography bathes the couple in shimmering soft light amidst voluminous darkness: romantic intimacy that the Depression, ironically, makes more urgent, more precious.
     The film is also incredibly funny. “He writes poetry?” Longfellow’s housekeeper is asked. “Oh, yes. Longfellow’s famous.”

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