Continuing to indulge my Frank Capra addiction…
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is one of the Capra films I hadn’t seen yet. Almost as soon as it started, I knew that it was going to turn out to be one of the best examples of Capra’s philosophy of optimism and faith in human nature. Although it is based on the story “Opera Hat,” which was originally serialized in Saturday Evening Post, the story a greeting card poet who has never left his small home town in Vermont until he inherits a fortune which he soon becomes disillusioned with, seems to have been tailor-made for Capra.
Capra made Mr. Deeds Goes to Town when he was waiting for Ronald Colman, his only choice for the lead in Lost Horizon, to be available. His “first, last and only choice” for the title role was Gary Cooper. I haven’t seen Cooper in many films, simply because I am not a big fan of Westerns, but he is pitch perfect both in his portrayal of a good-natured, shy eccentric from a small town and as a man who is deeply moved by the plight of the disadvantaged during the Depression.
Carole Lombard was originally cast as the tough newspaper writer who goes undercover to write a series of articles mocking Mr. Deeds as a hick in the big city, and winds up falling in love with his sincerity. Lombard dropped out of the production a few days before filming started in order to appear in My Man Godfrey, a film with similar themes. The part then went to Jean Arthur, and it would be her first featured role although she had been in films since the silent era. She would also become one of Capra’s favorite actresses. Her fast-talking, raspy voiced delivery suit her well as a resourceful staff writer who is able to dig up the dirt on Deeds after all her male colleagues fail, and her ease in welling up her eyes comes in handy in the second half of the film, when she is forced to see the media circus she instigate take advantage of Deeds. Douglass Dumbrille, whom I know from the Marx Brothers films A Day at the Races and The Big Store, is great as he does what he was known for, playing suave by conniving crooks, in this case a lawyer trying to wrestle control of the estate away from Deeds by having the heir declared legally insane.