Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur star in “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) is an American comedy directed by Frank Capra and starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur. The screenplay was by frequent Capra collaborator, Robert Riskin. The screenplay was based on a short story Opera Hat by Clarence Budington Kelland. The short story was serialized in The American Magazine.

The film features an impressive supporting cast that includes George Bancroft, Lionel Stander, Douglass Dumbrille, Raymond Walburn, Ruth Donnelly, and Charles Lane, a veteran of many Capra films.

The plot concerns one Longfellow Deeds (Cooper), co-owner of a business, greeting card poet, and tuba-playing musician. Deeds lives in the peaceful town of Mandrake Falls, Vermont, during the Great Depression. Due to the accidental death of his uncle Martin Semple, Deeds inherits 20 million dollars. Semple’s shady lawyer John Cedar (Dumbrille) tries to control Deeds’s fortune by scheming to give him power of attorney.

Enter Louise “Babe” Bennett (Arthur), star reporter for a New York City newspaper. She gains Deeds’s confidence by masquerading herself as a poor worker named Mary Dawson. By doing this, Babe writes a series of popular articles on Deeds, portraying him as a simple-minded hick who just happened to inherit 20 million dollars. She gives him the nickname “Cinderella Man” and a legend is born.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town trivia:

  • Gary Cooper was always Frank Capra’s choice to play Longfellow Deeds, but Carole Lombard had originally signed on to play Babe. Lombard dropped out when she was offered the female lead in My Man Godfrey (1936).
  • This was one of Capra’s most financially successful films.
  • The verb doodle was introduced in the movie. Screenwriter Robert Riskin coined the word for the movie.
  • This was the first film in which Frank Capra’s name appears above the title. The Name above the Title was the name of Capra’s autobiography published in 1997.
  • Capra won his second Best Director Academy Award; he won a total of three for Best Director.
  • To watch the movie on YouTube, click on the link below.

Why watch this film?

  • This was the director’s first film with Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur, two of the director’s favorites.
  • Arthur’s on-screen persona is perfected in this film. After Deeds, she was one of the biggest female stars in Hollywood.
  • Capra’s talent as a director is on full display and illustrates why he is one of the most awarded directors of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
  • Graham Greene thought that the film was Capra’s finest to date.

To join the discussion on August 9, 2021, at 6:30 p.m. On August 9, 2021, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation with a zoom link to the discussion.

Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur

Discussion questions:

  1. What genre would you categorize this film? Comedy-drama, screwball comedy, romantic comedy? Something else?
  2. Where do you think this ranks among Capra’s films? Top-ten, top-five?
  3. What did you think of Gary Cooper as Longfellow Deeds? Can you see another actor in the role?
  4. This was Jean Arthur’s breakout role. What do you think of her performance? Would it have been a different movie with Carole Lombard in the role?
  5. Some critics thought the film was likable but not too important as films go. What do you think about that assessment?

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