Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
Capra considered Mr. Deeds Goes to Town "the first of a series of social-minded films in which I presumed to 'say' something to the audience. Whatever "my films" said had to come from those ideas inside me that were hurting to come out. No more would I accept scripts hurriedly written and count on my ability to juggle many balls in the air to make films entertaining - Regardless of the origin of a film idea, I made it mine." The message of Mr. Deeds was that it's noble to be an honest human being. To Capra, Longfellow Deeds "was not just a funny man cavorting in frothy situations. He was the living symbol of the deep rebellion in every human heart - a growing resentment against being compartmentalized. And when he used only his simple weapons of honesty, wit and courage, audiences not only laughed, they cheered!"
Only one actor in Hollywood could play this humble, tuba-playing country poet and get away with it: Gary Cooper. "Every line in his face spelled honesty," wrote Capra. "So innate was his integrity, he could be cast in phony parts but never look phony himself." Cooper's naturalistic technique as Mr. Deeds brought him his first Oscar nomination. He said, "Naturalness is hard to talk about, but I guess it boils down to this: You find out what people expect of your type of character and then you give them what they want." Cooper noted some parallels between Mr. Deeds' sudden wealth/fame and Cooper's own rising stardom. "Both of us had unexpected fortune dumped in our laps," he said. "Deeds got his bequest. The movies gave me mine, by degrees."
Though she'd already appeared in an astonishing 70 films, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town was Jean Arthur's breakthrough A-picture. She plays "Babe," a reporter who pretends to befriend Deeds so that she can secretly write articles that mock him. She became Capra's favorite actress, but the director was surprised at her nervousness. "Never have I seen a performer plagued with such a chronic case of stage jitters," he wrote. "I'm sure she vomited before and after every scene. When the cameras stopped she'd run headlong to her dressing room, lock herself in, and cry." But in front of the cameras, Jean Arthur was perfect.
Producer/Director: Frank Capra
Screenplay: Robert Riskin, Clarence Budington Kelland (story)
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Film Editing: Gene Havlick
Art Direction: Stephen Goosson
Music: Howard Jackson
Cast: Gary Cooper (Longfellow Deeds), Jean Arthur (Louise "Babe" Bennett), George Bancroft (Editor Mac Wade), Lionel Stander (Cornelius Cobb), Douglass Dumbrille (John Cedar), Raymond Walburn (Walter).
by Jeremy Arnold