Friday, April 18, 2014
MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN
(April 1936, U.S.)
Despite the unchallenged reputation Frank Capra held as a great filmmaker of positive American values, ideals and spirits, it still amazes even me how the tone of his films could be so promising and uplifting during the era of the Great Depression when American life all around was anything but positive and uplifting. Clearly, the man never lost hope and faith in the human race and I suppose it could be safe to say that perhaps American citizens didn't, either, or his films, particularly those of the 1930s, wouldn't have been so well embraced and cherished.
The flavor of MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN is fully laced with what would later be referred to in American cinema as "Capraesque", in that the courage and its positive effects and the triumph of the American underdog is clearly spelled out here, as it is in many of his other films. In this film, Longfellow Deeds (played by Gary Cooper) is a quirky poet of greeting cards and a tuba player who just happens to one day inherit twenty million dollars from his late uncle who's just perished in a car accident in Italy. As a small town simple man with few needs, Deeds is somewhat reluctant to even know what to do with that kind of money. However, leave it to the hustle and bustle of New York City to quickly change a man's attitude and perspective of things. The pleasures of wealth agree with Mr. Deeds and he's not too ashamed to display it. Keeping in mind that he's a simple and innocent man, one should also take note that unlike other fictional simple men of the screen like Chance Gardner of BEING THERE (1979) or the great Forrest Gump of the 1994 film, Deeds is smart enough to know when those around him with their greedy, money-grubbing hands out are trying to take advantage of him. Even the man who's supposed to be his trusted lawyer is trying in vain to secure the power-of-attorney so he can claim all that dough! But like I said, Deeds is a simple, yet smart man. Smart to himself and to those who watch him on the screen. To most of those around him, however, he comes off as quite a loon as he parades around the great city of New York jumping on the back of moving fire trucks, feeding donuts to horses and getting drunk in front of policemen. Under normal circumstances, acts such as these wouldn't even phase the typical New Yorker. But when you're out to claim big bucks from a poor sucker, these acts can be claimed as pure insanity.
Insanity is an important word here, but we'll get back to that in a moment. Even in a screwball comedy such as this, Capra inevitably reminds his audience that the Great Depression is taking place and the importance of trying to help out your fellow man. By the time Deed's shenanigans are starting to wind down, he's suddenly faced with the harsh reality of what the common American farmer is enduring at this time and realizes what the true purpose of all his money really is. That in mind, those that are now lined up at Deed's door are the poor and destitute who only seek a little financial help to get back on their feet. But even as Deeds is now portrayed as a saint and savior who's giving all his money away, those with their grubbing hands held out are still determined to get his money. This is where insanity plays its part in the film as we watch a public hearing take place to determine the state of mind of Mr. Deeds. Mounting evidence of his previous nutty actions certainly portrays a man who's not quite-all-there and should probably not be allowed to maintain and manage such a huge sum of money. This, like many other Capra stories, is where all looks hopeless for the hero and his place in society. But as is also in true Capra fashion, the hopeless man bounces back and defends himself and his actions. Through simple explanations of his own, we and those who would accuse him suddenly realize the true and innocent nature of Deed's habits and quirks because they are, in fact, not only not insane, but also ones that we, too, could be accused of doing from time to time. In other words, as the two old ladies testify, we're all just a little "pixilated", meaning odd like a pixie (but don't ask me what the hell a "pixie" is!). In the end, all false charges are dropped, the hero (also dubbed "the sanest man who ever walked into this courtroom" by the judge) keeps his money and his honorable intentions and, of course, gets the girl he loves...because all movie heroes get the girl they love, don't they??
Favorite line or dialogue:
Longfellow Deeds: "Now, uh, Jane, a little while ago you said I was pixilated. Do you still think so?"
Jane Faulkner: "Why, you've always been pixilated, Longfellow."
Amy Faulkner: "Always."
Deeds: "That's fine, hmm, I guess maybe I am. And now tell me something, Jane, who else in Mandrake Falls is pixilated?"
Jane: "Why, everybody in Mandrake Falls is pixilated - except us."