“People here are funny: they work so hard at living they forget how to live.”
When an eccentric poet (Gary Cooper) inherits a large sum of money from his wealthy uncle, he suddenly finds himself the laughing stock of New York, thanks to a series of articles written by an undercover journalist (Jean Arthur).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Frank Capra Films
- Gary Cooper Films
- George Bancroft Films
- Jean Arthur Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary describes this (relatively) early Frank Capra film as the first in the director’s oeuvre “to really attack the city, to show that it has deprived its people of their basic human values”. He argues that it “never reflects the cynicism” of Capra’s later, similarly themed films — Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Meet John Doe, or It’s a Wonderful Life — and contends that “it is the only one of the four films where the happy ending seems completely natural.” Ultimately, though, while he finds Mr. Deeds… “enjoyable”, he argues that “it’s not on the level of the Jimmy Stewart films” — though he clearly finds it preferable to Cooper’s later collaborative effort with Capra, Meet John Doe (1941), which we both agree is a highly over-rated bore.
Indeed, having just recently rewatched Meet John Doe (also scripted by Capra’s frequent collaborator, Robert Riskin), I was pleasantly surprised to find this earlier comedy so much fresher on every count. Riskin’s script — while occasionally showing evidence of “Capra-corn”-ish tendencies — never strays too far in this direction, and offers plenty of humorous delights. Unlike in John Doe, Cooper’s home-spun title character here possesses a refreshing amount of sass and eccentric gumption; while we may be tempted at first to laugh at him (along with the rest of New York), we very quickly realize he has his finger on the pulse of what’s truly important in life. Meanwhile, Jean Arthur’s performance as the opportunistic journalist who jumps at the chance to earn a month’s vacation (with pay) by scooping Longfellow’s story never hits a false note — we can literally see her falling for him moment by moment, and her gradual remorse at the critical role she’s playing in his humiliation is palpable. You’re guaranteed to choke up during their final romantic scene together.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Gary Cooper as Longfellow Deeds (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actors of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
- Jean Arthur as Babe Bennett (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
- Fine supporting performances
- Joseph Walker’s cinematography
- Robert Riskin’s humorous, incisive script
Yes; this one represents Capra at his peak. Nominated by Peary (and the actual Academy) as one of the best pictures of the year.
- Genuine Classic
- Important Director
- Oscar Winner or Nominee
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)