Tim Lieder (marlowe1) wrote,
Tim Lieder

Mr Deeds engages in Bullshit Populism

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.
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