Meet John Doe

Ring a Ding Ding

Meet John Doe (1941)

     Gary Cooper was a wonderfully diverse actor. He could just as easily play the confident and tough lawman, lover or soldier as he could let Director Frank Capra break him down into an apologetic everyman. That is how we find him in Meet John Doe, a movie that also presented me with the least sexual Barbara Stanwyck I have ever seen.

 
     Like the small-towner in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Cooper plays a nobody who becomes more than a somebody, which essentially makes this picture a combination of the aforementioned film with A Face in the Crowd. Like the former, our leading man is manipulated/discovered by a female reporter and like the latter the protagonist becomes a national symbol with masses of followers.
 
    When the wealthy B.D. Norton (Edward Arnold) purchases The Bulletin, Stanwyck’s Ann Mitchell finds herself fired like many others at the newspaper. She’s required to write one last column before she heads out, however, so she fabricates a letter from a reader who says he will jump off town hall on Christmas Eve because he is fed up with the ills of society. The item becomes a sensation and Ann and her editor Connell (James Gleason) are forced to find someone to act as this John Doe or be humiliated by a rival paper.
 
     In interviewing a host of down-and-out men who come forward claiming to be the letter’s author, Ann and Connell agree John Willoughby (Cooper), a former small-time baseball player, is the perfect fit. They put him up in a hotel and hide him from the world while Ann gets to work writing more of “his” letters about his outrage against society to run in the paper. John is eventually put on the radio, reading a speech Ann wrote using inspiration from her deceased father’s diary. The man is a sensation and John Doe Clubs start popping up around the nation.
 
     John is upset that the whole persona is a lie but he cannot deny the good it is doing through these clubs that involve neighbors accepting each other and working together for the common good. Publisher Norton is even sponsoring these clubs around the country, although it is easy to see he must have something sinister in mind.
 
     That something is a run for president, and Norton plans to have John endorse him at a big rally for the clubs. Ann writes the speech but is stuck in moral turmoil as her involvement in the ruse has brought her a significant increase in salary. John plan to reveal the whole scheme to the rally crowd, but Norton puts out papers revealing the fraud before he can speak, thus making him the object of the mass’ rage. Although he had never intended to jump from town hall as the fictional John Doe said he would, the real one sees it as a way to reunite his followers.
 
     Meet John Doe is not without its romance. Although Stanwyck’s character is solely career focused, John cannot help but be fascinated by the woman. She resists him until the end, all the while be showered with gifts from Norton’s nephew. Nevertheless it was strange to see Stanwyck in a role that was neither sweetly romantic nor severely seductive. This brunette version of the star does a fantastic job of pulling off a massive ruse all while convincing us she is a pure and admirable person.
 
     It goes without saying that Cooper is great. He had by this point in his career such a rugged face that he could be perfectly believable as the ragged, dirty bum we first meet and as handsome, romantic personality he becomes. UnlikeA Face in the Crowd, his character never becomes power crazed but instead fights the urge to run away from his new life, much like his Mr. Deeds character.
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One Response

  1. Ann Mitchell was one of Stanwyck’s best performances. She and Cooper always played well off one another. I also like the message of the film.

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