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FRANK CAPRA – MEET JOHN DOE

Submitted by ceo on October 8, 2010 – 1:27 am2 Comments

The situation thus established is a confused and complex one for both Ann and John. Ann uses the ideas of her honest and idealistic father in the speeches, which persuade people to believe that “John Doe” is genuine and which—not incidentally—earn her large amounts of money from Norton. It is pointed out to John that even if he gets the money to repair his arm, he will never be able to play baseball when people find out that he is a fake. He is about to give up the whole thing when Bert (Regis Toomey), the leader of one of the John Doe clubs, comes to him and tells him a heart-warming story about how their lives have been changed and their appreciation of their fellow man deepened by what he has done. Both Ann and John at least partially believe the John Doe message, but one character has no ambiva­lence, no confusion of motives—D. B. Norton. He is the one purely evil figure in the film. Slightly heavy set, expensively dressed, smugly polishing his eyeglasses, he tells Ann that she will never have to worry about money if she plays her cards right.

Standing somewhat outside the action but always commenting on it is John’s friend, who is called simply the Colonel (Walter Brennan). He has bummed around with John and views with disdain anything that complicates life. When first given fifty dollars, a new suit, and a hotel room, John enjoys it all, saying that even the major leaguers do not have such luxury. The Colonel, however, is contemptuous of the whole thing. As he explains it, money makes you used to things which will wreck you. You start by eating in restaurants, and the next thing you know you cannot sleep without a bed. You start with fifty dollars and end up with a bank account and with everyone wanting to sell you something. This, he says, turns everyone into “heelots,” which, he ex­plains, means “a lot of heels,” who think only of how they can get money from you. The Colonel much prefers their old life when they rode freight trains and slept under bridges together.

The Colonel with his skeptical attitude provides the film with moments of humor and a refreshing counterpoint to the sometimes overly sentimental scenes. During Bert’s long and emotional declaration to John, we see the Colonel looking on disgustedly; and in a delightful scene in the hotel room, John and the Colonel play a game of baseball with an imaginary ball.

The climax of the film occurs at a huge rally of John Doe club members from all over the country. Over twenty thousand have gathered in a ball park in the rain, and the event is being covered by national radio. Norton plans to have John Doe announce at the rally the formation of a third party with Norton as its presidential candidate. He and his cohorts plan a Fascist-style government to rule the people with an “iron hand.” John, who is planning to ask Ann to marry him, finds out about the plot from Connell, who is cynical, but not cynical enough to let such a thing happen. When he goes to Norton’s house to confront him, John finds that Ann, wearing a new fur coat and a diamond bracelet, is there together with Norton and all his cohorts. John threatens to reveal the truth to the rally, but Norton replies that he will kill the John Doe movement if he cannot use it. Completely disillusioned, John goes to the rally, but Norton outmaneuvers him. After newsboys dis­tribute thousands of papers at the rally proclaiming John Doe a fake, Norton denounces him from the microphone and then has the wires cut so John cannot reply to the charges.

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2 Comments »

  • Ari says:

    Our pleasure. We have been privileged to have a great contributor who is as big a Capra fan as you are.

  • Michael Dean says:

    “Meet John Doe” is my second or third favorite Capra film (it flip-flops with “It Happened One Night”). The ending, where we’re not really sure where the characters will go next, is strangely the perfect ending, imo. Thanks for all these great Capra retrospectives.

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