Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), produced and directed by Frank Capra.

Inheriting a vast fortune, small town poet and tuba player Longfellow Deeds must see the bright lights and big city and be tempted by its wicked ways.

The great battle of city slickers vs country rubes doesn't go quite as we expect. At first the city folk are nasty and we expect not to like them. The denizens of Mandrake Falls, Vermont seem charming in their mild, if eccentric, innocence.

But Deeds is not as innocent as he appears, being a shrewd judge of character and business, and is prepared to knock heads as needed. Most of the New Yorkers turn out to be all right. There is no helping embezzling lawyers or Society moochers.

When his love life goes sour, Deeds becomes too depressed to defend himself or even talk, a serious segment and vivid portrayal by Gary Cooper, age 35 and playing 28.

Having won big with It Happened One Night (1934), Capra could do whatever he wanted, which was to keep making romantic comedies with extra heart and a bit of Message. He sometimes becomes talky when earnest, but Depression era common people never had a better friend. He told them they were right in wanting dignity, a chance to work and a little helping hand.

Capra would repeat the innocent-finds-love-and-trouble-in-the-city formula in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), with Jean Arthur in a similar role. The second film was originally planned as a sequel to the first.

Break-out role for Arthur, taking over from Carole Lombard who backed out at the last minute to do My Man Godfrey (1936). The story her character tells about her small town youth and fishing with her father: I still don't know if that was truth or just a tale to hook Deeds.

Introduced two words to wider circulation: "pixelated" and "doodle".

Photographed by Joseph Walker.

Available on Blu-ray with a commentary track by the director's son. He says his father broke many filmmaking rules, but had one he tried to follow: do not bore the audience.