Holiday Marathon 2021 - Meet John Doe (1941)
Christmas movies are a pretty big blind spot for me, so here’s to a whole month of getting smothered with the Christmas spirit with some of the best in the genre.
Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe examines some of the same themes as his previous Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. In fact, it seems Capra is one of the directors during this time who was really able to tap into the anxieties and concerns of society. In this case, it was the lack of faith in humanity that the fictional John Doe, created by a savvy reporter played by Barbara Stanwyck, expresses eloquently. His declaration that he will kill himself on Christmas Even inspires a frenzy of good will that even Stanwyck’s character couldn’t anticipate, meaning that she must find someone who would be willing to play the John Doe she created. A handsome drifter played by Gary Cooper is almost too perfect with his good looks tempered with relatability and charisma. Capra’s ability to tell this, at the time, predictable story elevates this film, with his use of montage and knowing how to direct his actors to deliver long scenes of exposition. This may also be Gary Cooper’s best performances. I will admit that I don’t know much about Cooper’s career, but he always struck me as someone who realized more on his looks and natural charisma rather than an acting talent that favors real immersion in his characters. I think Capra really uses Cooper’s presence really well in this and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town to great effect since he can use his inherent star quality to make us care for his character without being distanced by his obvious good looks. And Barbara Stanwyck is, of course, predictably fantastic. Even if this is one of Cooper’s best performances, Stanwyck is still better than he is. Even when she does questionable actions, we still respect her for her intelligence and hustle, and she’s able to sell her redemption arc really well, even when the dialogue doesn’t quite live up to her ability towards the end of the movie.
Holiday Spirit Quotient: 7 out of 10 holiday wreaths. The movie goes into legitimately dark territory, not unlike It’s a Wonderful Life, but there’s also a lot of wide-ranging social commentary that keeps it from feeling super cozy. Ultimately, this is more a movie that I would want to watch if I wanted to know a bit more about contemporary attitudes towards the Great Depression rather than as a holiday treat.