Pros: Funny, romantic, with a lot of heart.
Cons: You'll want your own Longfellow Deeds.
Only Charlie Chaplin can beat Gary Cooper at telling you everything you ever wanted to know without speaking! In Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Cooper is Longfellow Deeds, whose life is turned upside down by an inheritance that make him an instant millionaire. His prior existence in Vermont where he played tuba, wrote poetry for greeting cards in a postcard format, and was a volunteer fireman never prepared him for life as a millionaire inNew York City. Yet, his apparent naivety disarms nearly every opponent.
When the opera company appoints Deeds chair in order to get a hefty donation, the members get more than they bargained for. Deeds refuses to put money into a sinking ship. They’re aghast when he suggests mismanagement and tells them to lower ticket prices to bring in a larger audience.
Every man in New York believes that he can pull the wool over Deeds’ eyes and get his hands on Deeds' wallet. There are two shady lawyers (one of them is Charles Lane, the nasty banker who tried every week to foreclose on Petticoat Junction’s Shady Rest Hotel), pompous poets in an upscale restaurant, and the Fourth Estate.
Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur) is a hotshot reporter ready to beat the guys to every scoop in town (a predecessor toLois Lane). She goes undercover as Mary, a small town girl just arrived in the Big City, to lure Deeds into compromising situations that are sure to improve circulation. At first, she dubs him “Cinderella-Man” and makes him the butt of every joke. However, she didn’t expect to fall in love with him. How could she not fall in love with Deeds? He’s every woman’s ideal – chivalrous, strong, quiet, yet so innocent. He knows right from wrong and is always prepared to fight but only as a last resort.
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town was released in 1936 – during the Great Depression. The director, Frank Capra, is famous for what we now call “feel good” movies. It’s a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, both starring Jimmy Stewart, are prime examples of Capra stories. They’re about strong men challenged by adversity and almost succumbing to it. Capra also does madcap comedy – It Happened One Night (Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert) and Arsenic and Old Lace (Cary Grant and Priscilla Lane), for example. In Arsenic and Old Lace, Cary Grant is caught between his sweet but murderous aunts, his menacing criminal brother, and an unsuspecting fiancée. It Happened One Night pits a runaway heiress against a reporter and the “walls of Jericho.”
Only Gary Cooper can pull off this character – a babe in the woods one moment, an angry wronged man the next. He is so good at playing the strong, silent type that it seems this role was written for him. He makes you believe that Longfellow Deeds is real. This is something Adam Sandler tried but failed to do – forging a three-dimensional character from the cartoonish figure in the early scenes.
The actors in Frank Capra films were all much more than the characters they wore for 90 minutes or so. That’s what made them stars. We all know this is Gary Cooper, but we don’t care – and soon we forget that Gary Cooper and Longfellow Deeds are two different people.