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on December 31, 2010
That's right, Capra's masterpiece. More on that later.

Regarding the print, it isn't perfect in this 2010 VCI edition, but it's better than any previously released on DVD. There are still some skips, some lost frames and a few abrupt transitions, but the sound, as well as the darks, lights and mid tones, are more than acceptable--which is saying a lot, considering most public domain prints that have been paraded across the marketplace throughout the years have been decidedly UNacceptable.

1941 was a watershed year in American cinema. It was the year of the bold and groundbreaking "Citizen Kane," the breathtaking and heart wrenching "How Green Was My Valley," the grippingly patriotic "Sergeant York," the sobering, frightening fable, "The Devil and Daniel Webster," the pioneering noir classic by which all others are measured, "The Maltese Falcon," the brilliant and hilarious send-up of gangster films, "Ball of Fire," and the ultimate thinking man's comedy, "Sullivan's Travels." All are landmarks in the cinematic landscape, which hold up amazingly well today. But Frank Capra's fanfare for the common man, "Meet John Doe," also released that year, was arguably the greatest achievement in the careers of Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, character actor James Gleason, and Capra himself.

Gary Cooper was in three of the classics mentioned above, and few actors have ever had a better showing in any twelve-month stretch. Coop availed himself admirably enough as a real life hero forced to make a life changing decision in the Howard Hawks-directed "Sergeant York" to take home 1941's Academy Award for Best Actor. He displayed impressive comedic chops as a vulnerable and awkward academic with integrity in Hawks' "Ball of Fire" (which also co-starred Stanwyck). Either of these performances, let alone both, would be enough to elevate any actor to legendary status. Yet in "Doe" Cooper managed to transcend even himself in an acting tour de force that elicits laughter, tears, and the gamut of emotions in between.

One could use any number of scenes as examples, but a standout moment for me is when the people of a small town come forward to tell Doe what the burgeoning John Doe movement means to them and how it has changed their lives. Cooper displays, in his face, wordlessly, an eloquent range of nakedly moving emotions as he listens, at first reluctantly, to their stories--culminating in an utterly indescribable look of shame, modesty, guilt and love as an elderly woman kisses his hand.

Stanwyck is at her most effervescent as the street savvy but idealistic columnist Ann Mitchell, who creates, then falls hard for, Cooper's Doe. She's in there fighting not only for her man, but also for the ideals her late father taught her, which she infuses into the stirring, heartfelt speeches she writes for John. And we pull for her as she overcomes manipulation and machination by repugnant powers-that-be while fighting for what is right.

This is undoubtedly James Gleason's finest hour, as Stanwyck's boss, the seen-it-all, hard-bitten newspaper editor Henry Connell. His drunk scene in a diner with Cooper, in which he eloquently sums up the value of freedom and why it's worth defending, to the death if necessary, is enough to stir men's souls--which of course was the intention. He's speaking from a late 1940 perspective--with war raging in Europe and Asia and an unemployment rate of 14.5% at home, the twin threats of fascism and communism are very real--hearkening back to "lighthouses in a foggy world": Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. But looking back today through the spectrum of what has transpired in the seventy years since then, it's difficult not to get a little choked up by screenwriter Robert Riskin's stirring lines, and Gleason's masterful, off-the-cuff delivery of them.

More than a passing nod is due Edward Arnold, as the personification of opportunistic corporate-political evil, D. B. Norton, and to the incredibly versatile Walter Brennan (who also supported Cooper in "Sergeant York") as Doe's Jiminy Cricket-like conscience and sidekick, who is referred to only as "the Colonel."

The main character's correlation to Christ is undeniable, and Connell even makes a reference to Pontius Pilate following what can only be described as a crucifixion scene. Capra, who was Roman Catholic, imbues his hero with the Christ-like characteristics of a sacrificial lamb, offering him up for the greater good of Mankind. Ultimately, though, Doe's motives aren't quite on the level of "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends," as his intentions are somewhat vindictively (though perhaps justifiably) geared toward sticking it to the D. B. Nortons of the world. Ultimately, Ann convinces him that his sacrifice is unnecessary, that "the first John Doe" took care of it nearly 2,000 years ago, again drawing a Christ comparison, and on Christmas Eve no less.

Though most would choose "It's a Wonderful Life" as director Frank Capra's crowning work in a heartbeat, I can't help but lean toward the somewhat forgotten "John Doe." Capra was at the top of both his game and the movie world when he began shooting "Doe" in the summer of 1940, teamed with his best screenwriter, Robert Riskin. Though his achievements would eventually be eclipsed by those of the great John Ford, he was at the time the most decorated director in Hollywood, having won three Oscars in the previous five years. His hallmark optimism and populism is palpable in nearly every frame of "Doe," and while this film and "Wonderful Life" both celebrate the exceptional everyman, "Doe" resonates as a more personal work.

With rampant unemployment serving as the impetus for nearly everything that transpires in the film and a nationwide grassroots movement of the people as its centerpiece, plus ominous allusions to a new world order, "Meet John Doe" is open to a variety of sociopolitical interpretations from a 21st century perspective, which I'll leave to you. But more than a few of the warnings and lessons therein are certainly pertinent today. What we are left with in the final analysis is a wonderful, thought provoking, inspirational film, with all the best of what the Hollywood studio system had to offer at its peak, by one of its finest directors.

Ken Barnes, who has worn many hats in his long career, including producer-director, record producer and film historian, provides a knowledgeable running commentary, which is augmented with snippets of interview with Frank Capra himself.
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on June 27, 2014
I saw this once when I was a kid. It was on really late at night. I stayed up until about 3am watching it. I was hypnotized by it. It was really the first time I ever saw a movie that mattered. Up until then I had only seen movies that were entertaining: Jaws, Star Wars, Frankenstein...etc.. It was the first movie I ever saw that seemed to scream at me...that the things this movie was saying mattered and that I needed to pay attention.

It's my favorite movie of all time. It's the one that woke me up and showed what movies could really do.
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on May 5, 2014
First, if you're expecting something with all the pyrotechnics of modern movie industry films, including flashing booms of thunderous explosions, cars or trucks or buildings being blown apart, armed spacemen running to and fro in the forefront, and hard rock music blaring beyond decibel range -- then by all means DO NOT torment your scorched conscience to anything here that promotes inner healing, spiritual enhancement, and in touch with soul moments. You're too far gone.

However, if you're hungering for something more than just another film flick to bide your time, then allow me to exhort you to purchase this most wonderful story of redemption, love, and the things that matter most in this life, namely, people! At first, my heart began to sink, when the old black and white movie began, which reveals how much we've become accustomed to "fast food movies" (instant gratification). But as the story unfolded, I felt a lump growing in my throat, and tears welling up in my eyes.

You see, I'd forgotten (for the moment) what matters most at all times, people and how we treat them, for we are them! Taking the time to notice someone else, not for the purpose of flirtation or extortion, but rather, to be their connection from darkness to light again, to give someone that greatest gift of all, namely, hope! And to show others that they're loved and not alone in this world. It's better to give than to receive! Folks, that's not merely some cliché that someone came up with; it's THE TRUTH. And no one knows that better, than those who've made a practice of "giving to others" with no thought of anything in return.

Enough said. If you can't understand anything from this review yet, then you're beyond hope: a reprobate, incorrigible, a seared conscience and without any soul. If that describes you, then why continue trying to seek instant gratification here? You've come to the wrong place, my friend. Go back to your dark alleys and ways. But but but, if you've had a change of mind and heart, then don't waste anymore time reading and wondering.

But the movie today! And watch it. Think about it. It will haunt your thoughts and visit you in your dreams. Why? Because of this one nagging question: "Why haven't I given to others?" This movie is not just another flick. It's life changing, and you will watch it over and over and over again. It will water the parched land of your famished soul!
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on July 2, 2015
This classic needs no review of its content if you know the work of Frank Capra. In my opinion this is the single greatest acting achievement of both Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper. They are at the top of their profession in Meet John Doe, and Edward Arnold & Walter Brennan almost match them. This is a film for thinking and feeling viewers, not to be missed. It belongs in any serious film collection and the Restored VCI 70th Anniversary DVD is as good a print as will likely ever be available. The film was not a box office money maker and Frank Capra sold its rights, along with the original negative, to an individual who did not properly store it and let the copyright expire. The original negative corroded and the Film is now in the public domain and anyone can sell prints of it, usually poor quality. The VCI DVD did its best to bring the Film as close to modern standards using available sources to restore it. Highly Recommended.
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on April 10, 2017
When this film was released in 1941, the Nazis threat to freedom and democracy was more and more growing in the middle of WWII. Given this, Frank Capra was no longer optimistic about film-making like when he made “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” some years before. Looking at the big difference of characters between John Doe and Longfellow Deeds, both of which are played by Gary Cooper, it is evident that things had dramatically changed. The anti-Nazism sentiment is well mirrored in the characterization of Edward Arnold’s D.B. Norton. He tries to do everything he can to take power and debauches the John Doe movement, but the media manipulation eventually failed to unexpected populism. It is interesting to see this overlapping what is happening across the globe.

Cooper is fantastic as an ordinary guy in the role of John Doe who is awakened by his bitter experience after beguiled. Wordy idealism is lackluster though. Barbara Stanwyck is incredibly sublime as reporter Anne Mitchel. Her rapport with Cooper is conspicuous here again.
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on August 7, 2016
This movie is about so much more than what it appears. The message is still very relevant for what is going on in our country, with our media, ...the little guys of the world come together, corruption almost tears them apart. This is a beautiful story and message about fighting for what you believe in.
I really wont spoil it for you, but I love the speech of the ordinary guy in the small town about 55 minutes it,... the movie really shifts to a deeper meaning. It starts out like any other 40"s film... but the message in it reminded me of the Mr. Smith Goes To Washington movie. This is different but had the some really good speeches and good fight in waking up the masses and fighting corruption. If you are not into that sort of thing than this movie is not for you!
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on January 1, 2017
Frank Capra was not only a cinematic genius but he also understood the American Dream. He was a refreshing contrast to the leftists in the movie industry who were (and still are) promoting socialism as the solution to our nation's ills instead of a restoration of the vision of the Founders of our republic and the Framers of its Constitution. The solution to problems that are fundamentally due to corrupt government is not more government; it is smaller government that lacks the power to favor the interests of well-connected cronies over the interests of "the common man."
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on August 28, 2015
Movie of course is a classic. However, this widescreen version is so-so. Picture not improved and just seem to be watching it in a zoom mode. Not letterbox version.
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on May 1, 2017
The quality of the VCI 70 anniversary edition is superb, then why I don't give it a 5 star review?
Easy, they have the bad practice of put a giant Laureate logo in the intro credits of the movie not respecting the original material, when the good way to do this is with extra credits to the end or the start of the film (like Criterion editions) with your restoring process credits if any. To do this is like make a graffiti over a Picasso canvas, please guys...
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on February 7, 2013
I have seen this movie many times and like most classic movies, I never tire of it. It still speaks volumes of the state of society in those days and now. Some things have changed but there is still corruption in public government and the average Joe or Mary sometimes get stepped on. This is one of Frank Capra's best films along with "It's a Wonderful Life." This movie's theme is basic and true- help thy neighbor and get to know each other- "United we stand, divided we fall". It also depicts how the media tends to build up heroes and how it destroys those it has built up. It shows how media feeds on the latest news till we're saturated with it and then how it turns its back on it. Edward Norton embodies perfectly the corrupt and deceitful politician. He tries to take advantage of something good and tries to use it for his own benefit or else destroy it because it goes against his interests. Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper are the average people who get tangled up in what starts out to be a good cause but are almost destroyed by Norton's character. Stanwyck and Cooper were a perfect match in this movie. Their acting was passionate and sincere. The ending still makes me cry.
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