Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

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Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
Mdgtt1936.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Frank Capra
Produced by Frank Capra
Written by Clarence Budington Kelland (story)
Screenplay by Robert Riskin
Based on Opera Hat (1935 short story)
Starring Gary Cooper
Jean Arthur
George Bancroft
Music by Howard Jackson
Cinematography Joseph Walker
Editing by Gene Havlick
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • April 16, 1936 (1936-04-16)
Running time 115 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $845,710
Box office more than $1 million[1]

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is a 1936 American screwball comedy film directed by Frank Capra, starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur in her first featured role. Based on the 1935 short story Opera Hat by Clarence Budington Kelland, which appeared in serial form in The American Magazine, the screenplay was written by Robert Riskin in his fifth collaboration with Frank Capra.[2][3]

This was the seventh of 12 films on which Capra collaborated with screenwriter Robert Riskin, who played a key role in the development of Capra's directorial style. Their other collaborations included It Happened One Night (1934), for which Capra won Best Director and Riskin won Best Screenplay; You Can't Take It With You (1938), and Meet John Doe (1941).

Plot[edit]

During the Great Depression, Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper), the co-owner of a tallow works, part-time greeting card poet, and tuba-playing inhabitant of the (fictional) hamlet of Mandrake Falls, Vermont, inherits 20 million dollars from his late uncle, Martin Semple. His uncle's scheming attorney, John Cedar (Douglass Dumbrille), locates Deeds and takes him to New York City. Cedar gives his cynical troubleshooter, ex-newspaperman Cornelius Cobb (Lionel Stander), the task of keeping reporters away from Deeds. Cobb is outfoxed, however, by star reporter Louise "Babe" Bennett (Jean Arthur), who appeals to Deeds' romantic fantasy of rescuing a damsel in distress by masquerading as a poor worker named Mary Dawson. She pretends to faint from exhaustion after "walking all day to find a job" and worms her way into his confidence. Bennett proceeds to write a series of enormously popular articles mocking Longfellow's hick ways and odd behavior, giving him the nickname "Cinderella Man."

Cedar tries to get Deeds's power of attorney in order to keep his financial misdeeds secret. Deeds, however, proves to be a shrewd judge of character, easily fending off Cedar and other greedy opportunists. He wins Cobb's wholehearted respect and eventually Babe's love. However, when Cobb finds out Bennett's true identity and tells Deeds, who had been in love with her, he is left heartbroken.

Just as Deeds is ready to return to Mandrake Falls in disgust, a dispossessed farmer (John Wray) breaks into his mansion and threatens him with a gun. He expresses his scorn for the seemingly heartless, ultra-rich man, who will not lift a finger to help the multitudes of desperate poor. After the intruder comes to his senses, Deeds realizes what he can do with his troublesome fortune. He decides to provide fully equipped 10-acre farms free to thousands of homeless families if they will work the land for several years.

Alarmed at the prospect of losing control of the fortune, Cedar joins forces with Deeds' only other relative and his grasping, domineering wife in seeking to have Deeds declared mentally incompetent. Along with Babe's betrayal, this finally breaks Deeds' spirit and he sinks into a deep depression. A sanity hearing is scheduled to determine who should control the Deeds' fortune.

During his sanity hearing, things look bleak for Deeds, especially since he initially refuses to defend himself. Cedar even gets Deeds's Mandrake Falls tenants—eccentric elderly sisters Jane and Amy Faulkner (Margaret Seddon and Margaret McWade)—to testify that Deeds is "pixilated," meaning odd like a pixie. That charge falls apart when the two spinsters, when questioned as to who else is pixilated, reply, "Why everyone, but us." After Babe convinces Deeds that she truly loves him, he systematically punches holes in Cedar's case—before actually punching Cedar in the face—and the judge declares him to be "the sanest man who ever walked into this courtroom."[4]

Cast[edit]

Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur

Production[edit]

Jean Arthur as Louise "Babe" Bennett

Originally, Frank Capra intended to make Lost Horizon after Broadway Bill (1934), but lead actor Ronald Colman couldn't get out of his other filming commitments. So Capra began adapting Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. The two main cast members, Gary Cooper as Longfellow Deeds and Jean Arthur as Louise "Babe" Bennett/Mary Dawson, were cast as production began. Capra's "first, last and only choice" for the pivotal role of the eccentric Longfellow Deeds was Gary Cooper.[5] Due to his other film commitments, production was delayed six months before Cooper was available, incurring costs of $100,000 for the delay in filming.[6]

Arthur was not the first choice for the role, but Carole Lombard, the original female lead, quit the film just three days before principal photography, in favor of a starring role in My Man Godfrey.[7] The first scenes shot on the Fox Studios' New England street lot were in place before Capra found his replacement heroine in a rush screening.[6] The opening sequences had to be reshot when Capra decided against the broad comedy approach that had originally been written.[7]

Despite his penchant for coming in "under budget", Capra spent an additional five shooting days in multiple takes, testing angles and "new" perspectives, treating the production as a type of workshop exercise. Due to the increased shooting schedule, the film came in at $38,936 more than the Columbia budget for a total of $806,774.[8] Throughout the pre-production and the early principal photography, the project still retained Kelland's original title, Opera Hat, although Capra tried out some other titles including A Gentleman Goes to Town and Cinderella Man before settling on a name that was the winning entry in a contest held by the Columbia Pictures publicity department.[9]

Reception[edit]

The film was generally treated as likable fare by critics and audiences alike. Noted reviewer Graham Greene was effusive that this was Capra's finest film to date, describing Capra's treatment as "a kinship with his audience, a sense of common life, a morality..." [10] Variety noted "a sometimes too thin structure [that] the players and director Frank Capra have contrived to convert (...) into fairly sturdy substance."[11]

This was the first Capra film to be released separately to exhibitors and not "bundled" with other Columbia features. On paper, it was his biggest hit, easily surpassing It Happened One Night.[12]

American Film Institute recognition

Awards[edit]

Capra won his second Academy Award for Directing in 1936 for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, while Cooper received the first of his five nominations for Best Actor. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Screenplay (Robert Riskin), and Best Sound Recording (John P. Livadary).[13]

At the end of the year, the New York Film Critics and the National Board of Review named "Mr. Deeds" the "Best Picture of 1936."[14]

Adaptations[edit]

A radio adaptation of the film was originally broadcast on February 1, 1937 on Lux Radio Theater. In that broadcast, Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur and Lionel Stander reprised their roles from the 1936 film.[15]

A short-lived ABC television series of the same name ran from 1969 to 1970, starring Monte Markham as Longfellow Deeds. It was also loosely remade as Mr. Deeds in 2002, starring Adam Sandler and Winona Ryder.

A mistaken belief is that a sequel called Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington was written and eventually became Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Although the latter has some similarities to Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, including starring Jean Arthur and being directed by Capra, its 1939 screenplay was actually based on an out-of-print novel, The Gentleman from Montana and was an entirely unique and unrelated project.[16]

The Bengali movie Raja-Saja (1960) starring Uttam Kumar, Sabitri Chatterjee, and Tarun Kumar, and directed by Bikash Roy was a Bengali adaptation of this film.

The 1994 comedy The Hudsucker Proxy had several plot elements borrowed from this film.[17]

A Japanese manga adaption of the film was made in 2010 by Ogata Hiromi called Bara no Souzokunin.

Popular culture[edit]

The bucolic Vermont town of Mandrake Falls, home of Longfellow Deeds, is now considered an archetype of small town America with Kelland creating a type of "cracker-barrel" view of rural values contrasted with that of sophisticated "city folk".[18][19] The word pixilated, previously limited to New England (and attested there since 1848), "had a nationwide vogue in 1936" thanks to its prominent use in the film,[20] although its use in the screenplay may not be an accurate interpretation.[N 1]

The lyrics to the 1977 Rush song "Cinderella Man" on the A Farewell to Kings album are based on the story of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.

In Movie "Baby Boom" a babysitter refers to her hometown of Mandrake Falls.

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ A correspondent to Notes and Queries in 1937 objected to the screenplay's use of "pixilated" to mean "crazy" because the more correct meaning of "a 'pixilated' man" is "one whose whimseys [sic] are not understood by practical-minded people." Quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. (1989), s.v. "Pixilated".

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Quigley Publishing Company "The All Time Best Sellers", International Motion Picture Almanac 1937-38 (1938) accessed 19 April 2014
  2. ^ Poague 1975, p. 17.
  3. ^ McBride 1992, pp. 332
  4. ^ a b Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Internet Movie Database. Retrieved: November 16, 2011.
  5. ^ McBride 1992, p. 342.
  6. ^ a b Capra 1971, p. 184.
  7. ^ a b Scherle and Levy 1977, p. 137.
  8. ^ McBride 1992, p. 346.
  9. ^ McBride 1992, p. 328.
  10. ^ Greene, Graham. "Mr. Deeds." The Spectator, August 28, 1936.
  11. ^ "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town." Variety. Retrieved: February 21, 2008.
  12. ^ McBride 1992, p. 348.
  13. ^ "The 9th Academy Awards (1937) Nominees and Winners."oscars.org. Retrieved: 9 August 2011.
  14. ^ McBride 1992, p. 349.
  15. ^ Haendiges, Jerry. "Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs - Lux Radio Theater." otrsite.com. Retrieved: October 18, 2009.
  16. ^ Capra 1971, p. 254.
  17. ^ Schweinitz 2011, p. 268.
  18. ^ McBride 1992, p. 333.
  19. ^ Levy, Emanuel. "Political Ideology in Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town." emanuellevy.com, April 1, 2006. Retrieved: February 26, 2008.
  20. ^ Eckstorm, Fannie Hardy. "Pixilated, a Marblehead Word", American Speech, Vol. 16, no. 1, February 1941, pp. 78–80.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Capra, Frank. Frank Capra: The Name Above the Title: An Autobiography. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1971, ISBN 0-306-80771-8.
  • McBride, Joseph. Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success. New York: Touchstone Books, 1992, ISBN 0-671-79788-3.
  • Michael, Paul, ed. The Great Movie Book: A Comprehensive Illustrated Reference Guide to the Best-loved Films of the Sound Era. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1980. ISBN 0-13-363663-1.
  • Poague, Leland. The Cinema of Frank Capra: An Approach to Film Comedy. London: A.S. Barnes and Company Ltd., 1975, ISBN 0-498-01506-8.
  • Scherle, Victor and William Levy. The Films of Frank Capra. Secaucus, New Jersey: The Citadel Press, 1977. ISBN 0-8065-0430-7.
  • Schweinitz, Jorg (Translated by Laura Schleussner). "Enjoying the stereotype and intense double-play acting". Film and Stereotype: A Challenge for Cinema and Theory (E-book). New York: Columbia Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-231-52521-3.

External links[edit]

Streaming audio