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Mr. Deeds Goes To Town

March 6, 2011

98. Mr. Deeds Goes To Town
Directed by Frank Capra
USA, 1936
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Ally
First viewing


Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper), a greeting card poet and amateur tuba player from the rural town of Mandrake Falls, inherits a vast fortune from his estranged uncle. He is whisked away to New York, where his uncle’s corrupt attorney John Cedar (Douglass Dumbrille) expects to easily manipulate him. However, Mr. Deeds proves to be more perceptive, more socially conscious and more eccentric than anyone had bargained for.

He is fooled by one person however; star reporter Louise Bennett (Jean Arthur), who poses as poor, exhausted Mary Dawson, appealing to Deeds’ damsel-in-distress fantasy in order to get a scoop. She writes a series of articles painting him as a laughable country hick, nicknaming him “Cinderella Man.” She later quits the paper after falling genuinely in love with Deeds, but the course of movie love never did run smooth…

Essential Scene:

Mr. Deeds was in the process of using his inheritance to create jobs for the unemployed, when greedy relatives of his uncle had him arrested on grounds of insanity. He is tried, but initially refuses to defend the accusations, remaining silent throughout the farcical trial. Finally he takes the stand.

Mr. Deeds: About my playing the tuba — seems like a lot of fuss has been made about that. If a man’s crazy just because he plays the tuba, then somebody better look into it because there are a lot of tuba players running around loose. Course, I don’t see any harm in it. I play mine when I want to concentrate. That may sound funny to some people, but everybody does something silly when they’re thinking. For instance, the judge here is… is an ‘O’ filler.

Judge May: A what?

Mr. Deeds: An O-filler. You fill in all the spaces in the ‘O’s with your pencil, I was watching you.

The crowd bursts into laughter. The judge (H. B. Warner) examines the page in front of him. He has indeed filled in every O, D and any other letter with a hollow in it. He puts it back face-down on the desk.

Mr. Deeds: That may make you look a little crazy, Your Honour, just, just sitting around filling in ‘O’s, but I don’t see anything wrong because that helps you think. Other people are doodlers.

Judge May: Doodlers?

Mr. Deeds: That’s a name we made up back home for people who make foolish designs on paper when they’re thinking, it’s called doodling. Almost everybody’s a doodler. Did you ever see a scratchpad in a telephone booth? People draw the most idiotic pictures when they’re thinking. Doctor von Hallor here could probably think of a long name for it, because he doodles all the time.

The crowd laughs again. The Doctor, who has indeed been doodling absent-mindedly, looks up from his paper. The paper is seized and presented as “exhibit A for the defence.” It is decorated with numbers and abstract scribbles which seem to form a face.

Mr. Deeds: Everybody does something different. Some people are ear-pullers, some are nail-biters. That Mr. Semple over there is a nose-twitcher. And the lady next to him is a knuckle-cracker.

As Mr. Deeds highlights those odd habits, everyone in the courtroom becomes self-conscious and awkward. The Doctor picks up his pencil as if to doodle again, then puts it down. Mr. Cobb (Lionel Stander) stops himself spinning his pocket watch on its chain. Another man stops drumming his fingers on his desk, only to start fiddling with his lanyard. Stopping this too, his hand comes to rest on his face and he begins rubbing his lips.

Mr. Deeds: So you see, everybody does silly things to help them think. Well, I play the tuba.


Mr. Deeds Goes To Town is everything I’d expect of a Frank Capra film: Charming, funny, moralistic, and perilously close to schmaltz but snatching it back just in time. A prime example of said snatching is the scene in which Mr. Deeds confesses his love for “Mary” with a poem. Overcome with adolescent nervousness, Deeds runs away, his gangly limbs knocking over bins as he clatters away into the night, puncturing the sappy scene with much-needed levity.

The eponymous Mr. Deeds is an eminently likeable character — an eccentric everyman, which seems like an oxymoron but, as demonstrated in my chosen scene, we all have our peculiarities! While his tastes and occasional violent impulses may seem unsophisticated, he proves himself to be an excellent judge of character, a deflater of big city pomposity and a philanthropist.

Quite what posessed Adam Sandler to star in the remake, I’ll never know…

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