This week’s film wraps up the pseudo-Christmas theme of the month and another year(?!!??!) of the Blog Collab. If I had realized that, I might have picked something more in line with horror and/or film noir since those are the essential genres of this blog…though we still get a touch of horror from this week’s frequently too real selection.
Meet John Doe
Where to Watch:
Internet Archive (yes—this one is in the public domain [along with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians])
A newspaper columnist and an unemployed all-American type unintentionally kick off a political movement with the publication of a fake suicide letter.
The Uncondensed Version:
Newspaper columnist Ann is out of work and desperate to hold onto the salary that supports her mother and younger sisters. Since she’s lost her job but still needs to write one final column, she writes an imaginary suicide note from a man protesting the state of civilization. Fair enough, honestly.
This John Doe will jump off a building on Christmas Eve to make his statement—a statement that apparently resonates with many Americans who see the letter in print. With her job back, weekly column reinstated in the form of letters from John Doe, and a story quickly becoming headline news, Ann is determined to keep a good thing going. She schemes with the newspaper execs to find a real John Doe to draw even more public attention.
This, of course, is Gary Cooper, who used to play baseball but is now homeless. At first, John merely needs to pretend he’s the man behind the letters, but soon the paper and the people ask more and more of him. As his friend the Colonel warns him, “when you become a guy with a bank account, they’ve got you.”
John gains an ever-increasing following that starts a political movement. He refuses to identify with either major political party, so John Doe Clubs sprout up all across the country. Buttons and signs with John’s face and inspirational messages about being a good neighbor are suddenly everywhere…which means someone will inevitably try to capitalize on the situation. Obviously things fall apart when wealthy political wannabes get involved…which is just way too real even 70+ years later. Damn it, Frank Capra. Too on the nose.
Oh, also there’s a romantic subplot because it’s Frank Capra.
3/5 Pink Panther Heads
This is a Frank Capra film, so there’s a strong optimism underlying the story along with an idealization of the all-American underdog, and a commitment to doing right even when everyone else thinks you’re wrong. Many of the themes and story elements present in other Capra movies are here too, but they come across as a bit rehashed and less defined. This feels like watching the 10th or so Woody Allen movie about infidelity and failed relationships–Jesus fucking Christ, dude, we get it. There were also a shitload of baseball references I didn’t understand.
IDK if it was a good decision to watch this around Christmas because It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my absolute favorites. I inevitably compared Gary Cooper to Jimmy Stewart, and I just don’t think he has the natural charm and squeeze-ability of J-Stew. Gary Cooper feels more tough and reserved like later Jimmy Stewart, but I find earlier Jimmy more fun and sweet to watch. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway—Barbara Stanwyck is great in this. This just doesn’t grip me like some of Capra’s other work. It’s very possible that I’ve become too cynical to enjoy things anyway.