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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Meet John Doe (1941)



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Frank Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes To Town and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington were about ordinary American citizens stumbling into a position where they could redeem or thwart jaded officials and turn society and government on its head. Meet John Doe is another in that vein. It stars Gary Cooper as a guy hired to impersonate someone who doesn't actually exist but was invented by a journalist as part of a scheme to get even after being fired. If that sounds complicated, well, this movie is only just getting started.

Modern audiences frequently find Capra's films too sentimental, but I think he earns the sentiment. Maybe it's because his heroes aren't the perfect role models of moral integrity people remember them as: they are touched by society's corruption too. They straighten out in the end, but not without fighting hard for it and making sacrifices. If we are too cynical to believe that men like this can singlehandedly reform society, never mind. We can believe they'd change themselves, and that's enough.