Meet John Doe
Ultimate Collector's Edition, 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition, Collector's Edition
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(Nov 30, 2010)
70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition
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Written by a discharged journalist as a publicity stunt, and as a parting shot at the papers new editor, the premise of the letter unexpectedly fires the imagination of the Bulletins readers and the wider American public. Its real author, Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) who has fabricated the letter in her final column, is rehired, and now needs to find someone to play the part of the fictional John Doe. Gary Cooper is perfectly cast as Long John Willoughby, an injured and penniless former baseball pitcher lured into impersonating John Doe with the promise of medical treatment. In what would have undoubtedly been an Oscar winning performance, were it not for his own success that same year in Howard Hawks Sergeant York, Cooper excels himself here as Willoughbys initial indifference to his undertaking turns to genuine concern at his role. But, as he becomes an increasingly culpable pawn in an ever more treacherous game, just how can John Doe redeem himself? The film explores a recurring notion in Capras work that of the universal everyman exploited by a corrupt and powerful establishment, the films reflections on corporate control of both the media, and of ordinary peoples lives is still a resonant social commentary as ever.
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VCI has done a respectable job presenting this classic film in a two disc offering...the first disc holds the movie and it looks so much better than previous editions I'm not going to moan about it not being perfect. I have listened to part of the commentary and found it interesting to a point and the Frank Capra inserts very nice. The second disc contains "extras" that are second rate compared to major studio releases but are still enlightening and heck...the whole thing is so bloody affordable!
If you've been burned by bad versions in the past...I doubt its going to be released any better than this...and this is pretty good!
Just to be sure I'm reviewing the 2 DVD VCI set of Meet John Doe which was released Nov 30th 2010.
No question too lots of people who never thought they would see the unemployment line or the soup kitchen got a rude comeuppance in the 1930s. Take a guy like John Doe, not his real name, played by Gary Cooper whose wing gave out (his pitching arm gave out for those less sanguine sports aficionados) and wound up on the scape heap doing the best he could which was not too good when the deal went down. And like a lot of guys (gals too but we will concentrate on the guys here) who hit the roads during that time he ran into a guy, the Colonel, played by Walter Brennan, who became his road buddy, who tried might and main to keep him on an even keel (to no avail as one would suspect). Together they did the best they could until one day they heard, who knows how they heard but the “railroad jungle” grapevine like the teenage schoolboy and girl grapevine was pretty accurate, would be the envy of every CIA and NSA operative that a newspaper, a big city newspaper was looking for the “John Doe” anonymous author of a “suicide” note. Said in the note he was going to jump off the Empire State Building in hectic New Jack City to protest the inequities of the world. Was going to “atone” for the sins of mankind if you want top to put a slightly different spin on the matter. So penniless and not proud our John Doe (remember not his real name) showed up at the newspaper office with about ten thousand other shiftless bums to claim the “prize.”
Of course neither he nor the others knew that this “suicide note” was the dreamt up story from the imagination of a newspaper gal, Ann, who had been sacked as “redundant” by her employer’s agent and was fighting to get her job back. Her “idea” was to drive up circulation by getting the readers of the day to follow the exploits of the soon-to-be suicide John Doe-the people’s avenger (sound familiar with the doings of the lords of the fourth estate), a living symbol of what bothered and bewildered them about everyday life. So John met Ann. John agreed, pressed under by his then current bedraggled condition, to go along with the gag. And so the fireworks begun. You know the fireworks between the fetching Ann and the good-looking silent type John.
That, in the end, was the real story line but get this John started buying into the gag, decided that since people were taking him seriously he would act as a conduit for their frustrations, began some boosteristic clubs to express social solidarity. But John Doe got too big for his britches, began to take in an idea that things could change if people of ordinary clay stuck together. That however ran afoul of the intentions of the newspaper boss (played by perennial 1930s business executive heavy, Edward Arnold) to use the clubs as the springboard for his own political ambitions. One night at a big-time rally John was exposed as “fraud” and the whole thing seemed to collapse over his head. Being a stand-up guy John Doe decided to take that dreamt up leap to maintain his credibility. Go to it John, make the bosses pay.
Wait a minute didn’t you read above that this was a Frank Capra romantic comedy. No way was John leaping off anything higher that the steps of a bus. Not as long as the now smitten Ann had a breath in her body. Naturally although the class struggle took a back seat in the love business Ann stopped John in his tracks before he did anything foolish. And she did. That sounds familiar too. This one you want to watch as you see pros going through their paces in one of the top snappy and witty romantic comedies ever. Kudos Frank, Gary, Barbara, Walter and hell even Edward.
Really in need of some sharp editing to sustain interest and stop you glazing over during some of the most protracted speeches ever committed to film.
And they really aren't all that great it must be said.
About midway, one bloke actually says "Aw, I'm talking too much...", to which the viewer will MOST heartily agree, but then he immediately launches into another very long speech.
The leads are fine.
Stanwyck at her best in the beginning as the feisty reporter about to be sacked, who dreams up the idea (and sells it!) of inventing a fake persona who can freely criticise society and boost the ailing circulation of the paper.
She's somewhat less effective towards the end when she falls in love with the bloke hired to play "John Doe".
"Stanners" had many talents but playing the weepy, fainting love-struck maiden was never one of them.
Gary Cooper is suitably laconic, ...as he always is, but here it suits the part. His speeches are all written for him and his performance is believable, but there's a face-grimacing pantomime bit when he performs a mimed baseball game that seems some attempt at humour, ....NOT Cooper's strongpoint either.
Mention must be made of three "stooges", who seem to have no other function but to stand around in the background, act dumb, and make stagey facial expressions, or fall over things. (Yes, he does it twice in case you missed it!)
The rest of the cast contains some very famous faces.
Walter Brennan playing his usual grizzled old-timer,...even Sterlng Holloway gets a small part as a Soda Jerk.
The "villain" of the piece is a quasi-Nazi Hermann Göring look-a-like....he even has his own private army of black uniformed, jack-booted "S S" troops to carry out his orders.
They even perform a Nuremburg Rally style synchronised motorcycle display under the eye of their master early on.
If you're seeking subtlety, this isn't it I'm afraid.
Naturally Mr Göering lives his own Bavarian Schloss, decorated in the best style Nazi looting could provide.
OK so it's all about how the ordinary man gets used and manipulated by the corrupt and powerful establishment.
Capitalism reigns supreme?
Hardly big news, ...more like a way of life nowadays.
Of course the rich and powerful tries to ride in on the coat-tails of the highly egalitarian, but hugely naïve spoutings of the John Doe puppet, who as the movement grows, tries to become a "real boy".
The whole thing bogs down in VERY long speeches to camera. What ever happened to "show, don't tell"?
It's Capra of course, ...a favourite theme of his really, but overall this supposed film remains more of a book than a movie.
The theme is. ...or probably "was" relevant, and the leads are great for the most part, but it takes SO damned long to say what it has to say.
(Which could be far more succinctly put, ...and all the more effective for that.)
The attempts at providing comic relief are clumsy, and fail miserably to distract you from glancing at your watch and wondering just how long this thing can take to GET TO THE POINT!
Which you already gleaned about an hour and a half earlier anyway.
Sorry folks, but this one just kept going over and over the same material again and again just to prolong the eventual and highly predictable climax.
Even that's a cliché, with an audience of dozens turning up on top of the high building to watch the LONG threatened suicide.
There's the fat Nazi and his all minions in evening dress, Stanwyck of course, ...although she's apparently "dying" and passes out after her teary speech, ...even the feller who talks too much and all his friends from the sticks drive for hours to be there and manage to get into the building at night to be at the very stagey party on top. Did they send out invitations?
By this staged piece I was so familiar with the theme, and its repetition and over-extension, and being belted around the head with the single idea it contains ....I really began to hope he'd JUMP! (With Stanners in his arms of course!)
Just TWO stars from me, BUT it COULD have been engrossing and worth much more if it had been edited!
I think you see every single thing they shot.