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Mr Deeds engages in Bullshit Populism - Tim Lieder [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Tim Lieder

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Mr Deeds engages in Bullshit Populism [Mar. 29th, 2014|11:12 pm]
Tim Lieder
The AV Club inspired me to watch Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Mostly it had an article about great scenes in movies and this is a great scene - - precisely because the actress didn't mean to drop the coin and Capra just lets the camera go as she recovers by digging for the coin. It works so much better than it would have worked if they just let her do the coin trick without screwing it up and digging for the coin.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie actually made me long for the superior Adam Sandler remake. That's overstating it. The Adam Sandler Mr. Deeds was pretty bad but at least it cast a comedian in the main role of the rube who inherited millions from his uncle. Frank Capra cast Gary Cooper.

Gary fucking Cooper in a comedy. I don't know too much about the history of the movie - particularly where it was in the Capra canon - but I would bet that Jimmy Stewart had not met Capra at the time, because no way would Capra have cast boring Cooper in a role that pretty much only Stewart could do well. The fact of the matter is that Jimmy Stewart managed to make Capra's sonorous sermons about the COMMON MAN (G-d save us from the Common Man) and the Just Plain Folks sound natural and even sweet. Stewart could convey both intelligence and true emotion even as he was naive enough to believe the best in people. Unfortunately for this movie, Stewart was doing bit parts in sequels to The Thin Man. Fortunately for Capra, two years later he would cast Stewart in his movies and never look back.

By contrast, Gary Cooper was a fucking stiff. From beginning to end, he was a painfully deadly serious scold. Not surprisingly, Capra chose to keep the "Mr. Deeds gets drunk and goes crazy" scene off camera, because that kind of scene would require an actor who can convey a sense of whimsy, fun and manic energy. This is something that Adam Sandler can carry off (mostly - until you want someone to hit him - which is why we still love the Bob Barker scene from Happy Gilmore) but Gary Cooper was not fun.

The first third of the movie is Gary Cooper as the newly rich guy showing up these big city slickers that a rube is worth listening to. Only he is the fount of pompous talking points. When the opera company wants him to be on the board of directors and keep the money coming, he tells them that they are putting on the wrong shows and losing money and he's not going to run a business that doesn't make money (boo theater and opera people with your pretensions to art - we're movie people here). When he sees poets at a restaurant, they pull the Alonquin Round Table and mock him as effete jackals and he tells them off.

The second third is Jean Arthur falling in love with him. It's one of those "just shut up and go with it" romances that Hollywood movies like to do - most recently in the films of Katherine Heigl, where the two leads have no business hanging out much less falling in love but the script calls for it. And unlike Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, Arthur is more than willing to just take off to the suburbs. But then Gary Cooper finds out that she has been writing all of those news stories - PLOT CONTRIVANCE - and they have to break up.

And then the last third is when the populist crap really kicks in with the poor dirt farmer coming to the mansion with a gun and initially Mr. Deeds tells him that he's a freeloader, but then decides "what the hell, the guy has a gun on me but he didn't shoot me, so I'm going to bail him out." And then there is a long trial scene where everyone is calling him crazy until he gets up to speak and it's the most tedious courtroom scene ever set to film. Almost everything he says is met with loud laughter from everyone in the court. Even if he points out that the judge is doodling, it's the most hilarious thing in the world.

I think by this point in the editing process, even Capra realized just how fucking dull Gary Cooper was and basically invented the laugh track.

The main fascinating part of the movie was the way that it echoes in today's populism. There's this rah rah poor people, but then there's a "let the little woman marry the nice rich man and move to the suburbs and stop making trouble" scene. There's the Snobs vs. Slobs trope but it's basically in the service of "fuck those opera people with their money-losing fancy shmancy art" (and seriously, I love the Met especially the rush tickets so this part may be bothering me more than others).

There are classic movies and old movies that suck. This is the latter.

[User Picture]From: uvula_fr_b4
2014-03-30 04:37 am (UTC)
Oh, I don't know: I liked Mr. Deeds Goes to Town a lot more than you did, and I think that Gary Cooper gets a bum rap because he's not [fill in the blank]; he's leagues better than Gregory Peck, and he's actually quite effective in High Noon.

Can't say that I liked The General Died at Dawn, but The Lives of a Bengal Lancer and The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell were decent, and Sergeant York was flat-out good.

As regards Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, I was struck by the eerie parallels to the abortive coup against FDR plotted by the Du Ponts, J.P. Morgan & Co., E.F. Hutton, General Motors and "Rockefeller interests" in 1934 in the last third of the movie.
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[User Picture]From: marlowe1
2014-03-30 04:48 am (UTC)
He was effective in High Noon precisely because he's such a dull and stodgy actor. But I don't see him as better than Gregory Peck because Peck has a lot of warmth in his performances.
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[User Picture]From: uvula_fr_b4
2014-03-30 05:51 am (UTC)
Eh: my take on Cooper in High Noon was "layered and nuanced;" to my mind, "dull and stodgy" is much more applicable to Gregory Peck. One might make a case that Peck was perfectly cast as the beleaguered family man in the original Cape Fear, to underscore the point just how charismatic evil can sometimes be (Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck in the same scene: who are you going to pay more attention to, seriously?), but he was, to put it kindly, an actor with a very limited range. (As are, to be fair, most actors. Humphrey Bogart didn't have a stellar acting range, but he's usually watchable after, say, The Return of Doctor X.)

Honestly, Cooper's acting in High Noon played as more believable to me than John Wayne's in the best thing I've seen him do, The Searchers. All in all, I'd rather watch Gary Cooper than John Wayne.
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[User Picture]From: marlowe1
2014-04-03 02:14 am (UTC)
It was a very strange thing realizing that Robert Mitchum was fucking insane and awesome in all those old movies since I primarily remembered him from Winds of War when he was shackled to an extremely boring part.
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[User Picture]From: the_lucky_nun
2014-04-01 04:19 am (UTC)
Thank you, I enjoyed reading this review. I would agree that not all old movies are classics.
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[User Picture]From: marlowe1
2014-04-03 02:15 am (UTC)
I'm still annoyed that Mrs. Miniver won academy awards.
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