Longfellow Deeds lives in a small town, leading a small town kind of life - including playing the tuba in the town band. When a relative dies and leaves Deeds a fortune, Longfellow picks up his tuba and moves to the big city where he becomes an instant target for everyone from the greedy opera committee to the sensationist daily newspaper. Deeds outwits them all until Babe Bennett comes along. Babe is a hot-shot reporter who figures the best way to get close to Deeds is to pose as a damsel in distress. When small-town boy meets big-city girl anything can, and does, happen. Written by
"The Sanest Man Whoever Walked Into This Courtroom"
Frank Capra knew that Gary Cooper was made for the part of Longfellow Deeds, he waited until Harry Cohn could get him from Paramount before making this film. It certainly is a once in a lifetime role and it got Gary Cooper his first nomination for Best Actor. He lost that year to Paul Muni for The Story of Louis Pasteur. But Capra won for Best Director that year.
Cooper, poet laureate of Mandrake Falls, inherits 20 million dollars from a rich uncle. He's not terribly impressed with that as he feels he's living just fine in Mandrake Falls. But he goes down to New York City to settle the estate and gets put up in grand style at his late uncle's mansion.
The executor of the estate, Douglass Dumbrille, is one smooth talking, white shoe bottom feeder. This is probably Dumbrille's best known classic villain, John Cedar. He wants Cooper's power of attorney real bad to cover up some dipping he's done. Cooper isn't giving it to him right away though.
In the meantime his inheritance has become news and local editor George Bancroft has dispatched sob sister reporter Jean Arthur to invade his inner sanctum. That's a common thread in the Capra populist trilogy, a woman sent to invade the inner sanctum of the hero and ends up falling for him. Jean Arthur did it again to James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Cooper had it done to him again by Barbara Stanwyck in Meet John Doe.
After a whole lot of silly incidents which Arthur duly reports on, Cooper gets a real wake up call from one of what the current president then called a forgotten man. John Wray, a desperate farmer, tossed off his land and there were plenty of those in the twenties and thirties tells him off good and proper in a very powerful scene. Cooper, his own values questioned, decides to set up a fund to save the family farm as an institution.
Then he's called insane and Dumbrille takes as clients other heirs who want to contest the will. Which leads to Cooper's hearing in court to determine his sanity.
The values of Mr. Deeds are certainly eternal, honesty and decency don't and should never go out of style. Unfortunately the family farm is a thing of the past, there are less and less of them every year. It's agribusiness now so a faithful remake could never work today.
Yet the original still has a charm that cannot be denied, due to Frank Capra's vision and the way he got great performances out of the whole cast. One performance that shocked me was Raymond Walburn who usually plays avuncular, loquacious types. He plays the butler to Cooper's uncle and now to Cooper himself. To those who expect the usual Walburn we know and love, this is one different Walburn.
Even though Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is rooted firmly in the Thirties it should still be seen and studied today.
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