Meet John Doe
|Meet John Doe|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Frank Capra|
|Produced by||Frank Capra|
|Screenplay by||Robert Riskin|
|Story by||Robert Presnell, Sr.|
|Based on||A Reputation
1922 story in Century Magazine
by Richard Connell
|Music by||Dimitri Tiomkin|
|Edited by||Daniel Mandell|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
Meet John Doe is a 1941 American comedy drama film directed and produced by Frank Capra, and starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. The film is about a "grassroots" political campaign created unwittingly by a newspaper columnist with the involvement of a hired homeless man and pursued by the paper's wealthy owner. It became a box office hit and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Story. It was ranked #49 in AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers. In 1969, the film entered the public domain (in the USA) due to the claimants' failure to renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after release. It was the first of two features Capra made for Warner Brothers, after he left Columbia Pictures. His second film for Warners was an adaptation of the Broadway play Arsenic and Old Lace and was filmed in 1941 but not released until 1944 because the producers of the play wouldn't allow the film to be shown until the production closed.
Infuriated at being told to write one final column after being laid off from her newspaper job, Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) prints a letter from a fictional unemployed "John Doe" threatening suicide on Christmas Eve in protest of society's ills. When the letter causes a sensation among readers, and the paper's competition suspects a fraud and starts to investigate, editor Henry Connell (James Gleason) is persuaded to rehire Mitchell, who schemes to boost the newspaper's sales by exploiting the fictional John Doe. From a number of derelicts who show up at the paper claiming to have written the original letter, Mitchell and Connell hire John Willoughby (Gary Cooper), a former baseball player and tramp in need of money to repair his injured arm (by Bonesetter Brown), to play the role of John Doe. Mitchell starts to pen a series of articles in Doe's name, elaborating on the original letter's ideas of society's disregard for people in need.
Willoughby gets $50, a new suit of clothes, and a plush hotel suite with his tramp friend "The Colonel" (Walter Brennan), who launches into an extended diatribe against "the heelots", lots of heels who incessantly focus on getting money from others. Proposing to take Doe national via the radio, Mitchell is given $100 a week by the newspaper's publisher, D. B. Norton (Edward Arnold), to write radio speeches for Willoughby. Meanwhile, Willoughby is offered a $5,000 bribe from a rival newspaper to admit the whole thing was a publicity stunt, but ultimately turns it down and delivers the speech Mitchell has written for him instead. Afterward, feeling conflicted, he runs away, riding the rails with the Colonel until they reach Millsville. "John Doe" is recognized at a diner and brought to City Hall, where he's met by Bert Hanson (Regis Toomey), who explains how he was inspired by Doe's words to start a "John Doe club" with his neighbors.
The John Doe philosophy spreads across the country, developing into a broad grassroots movement whose simple slogan is, "Be a better neighbor". However, Norton secretly plans to channel support for Doe into support for his own national political ambitions. When a John Doe rally is scheduled, with John Doe clubs from throughout the country in attendance, Norton instructs Mitchell to write a speech for Willoughby in which he announces the foundation of a new political party and endorses Norton as its presidential candidate. On the night of the rally, Willoughby, who has come to believe in the John Doe philosophy himself, learns of Norton's treachery from a drunken Connell. He denounces Norton and tries to expose the plot at the rally, but Norton speaks first, exposing Doe as a fake and claiming to have been deceived, like everyone else, by the staff of the newspaper. Despondent at letting his now-angry followers down, Willoughby plans to commit suicide by jumping from the roof of the City Hall on Christmas Eve, as indicated in the original John Doe letter. Mitchell, who has fallen in love with Willoughby, desperately tries to talk him out of jumping (saying another John Doe has already died for the sake of humanity), and Hanson and his neighbors tell him of their plan to restart their John Doe club. Convinced not to kill himself, Willoughby leaves, carrying a fainted Mitchell in his arms, and Connell turns to Norton and says, "There you are, Norton! The people! Try and lick that!"
- Gary Cooper as John Doe/Long John Willoughby
- Barbara Stanwyck as Ann Mitchell
- Edward Arnold as D. B. Norton
- Walter Brennan as The Colonel
- Spring Byington as Mrs. Mitchell
- James Gleason as Henry Connell
- Gene Lockhart as Mayor Lovett
- Rod La Rocque as Ted Sheldon
- Irving Bacon as Beanie
- Regis Toomey as Bert Hansen (credited as just 'Bert')
- J. Farrell MacDonald as "Sourpuss"
- Harry Holman as Mayor Hawkins
- Warren Hymer as "Angelface"
- Ann Doran as Mrs Bert Hansen (uncredited despite important lines)
The film was screenwriter Robert Riskin's last collaboration with Capra. The screenplay was derived from a 1939 film treatment, titled "The Life and Death of John Doe", written by Richard Connell and Robert Presnell who would go on to be the recipients of the film's sole Academy Award nomination for Best Original Story. The treatment was based upon Connell's 1922 Century Magazine story titled "A Reputation".
Gary Cooper was always Frank Capra's first choice to play John Doe. Cooper had agreed to the part without reading a script for two reasons: he had enjoyed working with Capra on their earlier collaboration, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), and he wanted to work with Barbara Stanwyck. The role of the hardbitten news reporter, however, was initially offered to Ann Sheridan, but the first choice for the role had been turned down by Warner Bros. due to a contract dispute, and Olivia de Havilland was similarly contacted, albeit unsuccessfully.
The composer selected was frequent Capra collaborator Dimitri Tiomkin, who also did the scores for Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It's a Wonderful Life. He later won two music Oscars for the non-Capra film High Noon.
With an excellent script by Mr. Riskin—overwritten in many spots, it is true—Mr. Capra has produced a film which is eloquent with affection for gentle people, for the plain, unimpressive little people who want reassurance and faith. Many of his camera devices are magnificent in the scope of their suggestion, and always he tells his story well, with his customary expert spacing of comedy and serious drama. Only space prevents us from enthusing loudly about individual "touches".
In the Variety review, there was a more critical look at the plot:
The synthetic fabric of the story is the weakness of the production, despite the magnificence of the Frank Capra-directed superstructure. But Robert Riskin, who wrote the screenplay from an original story by Richard Connell and Robert Presnell, leaves the audience at the finale with scarcely more than the hope that some day selfishness, fraud and deceit will be expunged from human affairs."
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- 2003: AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains:
- John Willoughby – Nominated Hero
- 2006: AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – #49
Meet John Doe was dramatized as a radio play on the September 28, 1941 broadcast of The Screen Guild Theater, starring Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward Arnold in their original roles.
A musical stage version of the film, written by Eddie Sugarman and composed by Andrew Gerle, was produced by Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC, from March 16 to May 20, 2007 featuring Heidi Blickenstaff as Ann Mitchell and James Moye as John Willoughby/John Doe. Donna Lynne Champlin had previously appeared as Ann Mitchell in workshop versions of the show. After an off-Broadway stint, the Chicago production of the musical was presented at the Porchlight Music Theatre from March 5 to April 17, 2011 under the direction of Jim Beaudry, musical direction by Eugene Dizon, featuring Elizabeth Lanza as Ann Mitchell and Karl Hamilton as John Willoughby/John Doe, garnering a Jeff Award nomination for Actress in a Principal Role – Musical for Elizabeth Lanza. Due to this production, R&H Theatricals has licensed the show for future productions.
Restoration and home video status
In 1945 Capra and Riskin sold all rights in Meet John Doe to Sherman S. Krellberg's Goodwill Pictures, a New York distributor. While in Goodwill’s possession the original camera negative deteriorated due to poor storage and was eventually destroyed. Copyright in the film was not renewed and it fell into the public domain in 1969.
Poor quality copies of Meet John Doe have proliferated on home video for years, sourced from inferior quality prints, while the restored LoC print remains in storage. In 2001 Ken Barnes' Laureate Presentations undertook a digital restoration of the best available European print. This was released on DVD by Sanctuary in the UK and by VCI in the US. To date these are the best quality commercially available releases.
- Dirks, Tim. "Filmsite Movie Review: Meet John Doe (1941)." Filmsite.org (AMC Networks). Retrieved: March 13, 2015.
- Pierce, David. "Forgotten faces: Why some of our cinema heritage is part of the public domain." Film History, Vol. 19, No. 2, 2007, pp. 125–143.
- Eidenmuller, Michael E. "Movie Speech: Meet John Doe - Doe Delivers National Radio Address." Americanrhetoric.com. Retrieved: July 9, 2014.
- Crowther, Bosley (13 March 1941). "Meet John Doe (1941); 'Meet John Doe,' an inspiring lesson in Americanism, opens at the Rivoli and Hollywood theatres". The New York Times.
- Variety Staff (31 December 1940). "Review: Meet John Doe". Variety. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-14.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-14.
- "Talkin' Broadway Off-Broadway - Meet John Doe." Talkinbroadway.com, January 4, 2010. Retrieved: July 9, 2014.
- Marlowe, Sam. "Theater Loop: Chicago Theater News, Reviews & More." Leisureblogs.chicagotribune.com. Retrieved: July 9, 2014.
- "Cloning Hollywood". The Hindu. August 3, 2003. Retrieved September 21, 2016.
- "Meet John Doe: Restoration Comparison." LaureateDVD.com. Retrieved: January 11, 2014.
- "Meet John Doe: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition." VCIEntertainment.com. Retrieved: January 11, 2014.
- "Meet John Doe: Worldwide DVD Comparisons." DVDCompare.net. Retrieved: January 11, 2014.
- 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.
- Scherle, Victor and William Levy. The Films of Frank Capra. Secaucus, New Jersey: The Citadel Press, 1977. ISBN 0-8065-0430-7.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Meet John Doe|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Meet John Doe (film).|
- Meet John Doe is available for free download at the Internet Archive
- Meet John Doe, complete film on YouTube
- Meet John Doe at the Internet Movie Database
- Meet John Doe at the TCM Movie Database
- Meet John Doe at AllMovie
- Meet John Doe at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Six Screen Plays by Robert Riskin (1997), edited and introduced by Pat McGilligan - UC Press E-Books Collection
- Screenplay at Dailyscript.com