Meet John Doe (1941)

I celebrated 4th of July movie style four days late with a Frank Capra film, fondly known as Mr. America (who wasn’t American) in my book. I’ve always enjoyed Capra’s films, the popular It’s A Wonderful Life being my favorite. I’ve been craving some Stany lately and Gary Cooper isn’t hard to swallow either. Plus a good friend of mine did a huge project on Capra’s films and highly suggested it so why not?

Barbara Stanwyck plays the fast-talking, determined reporter Anne Mitchell. Fired from her job, she writes a fake letter from a Mr. John Doe who says that he is fed up with society’s wrongs and plans on committing suicide on Christmas Eve in protest. The next day story explodes and soon the newspaper either needs to stop the story and come clean or find a person willing to take on the role of John Doe. Anne talks her boss into finding a John Doe and they soon discover the rugged, handsome, and very American John Willoughby (Gary Cooper). He agrees to everything the letter entails and takes on the role of John Doe. Inspired by her father’s diary, Anne writes John’s speeches and creates the John Doe that America begins to know and admire. Except that is not who John Willoughby is and not exactly what he believes; he would rather take the $5,000 bribed to him and go play baseball again. However he is attracted to Anne and eventually falls in love with her. He stays in the John Doe role for quite some time until he learns that Anne has been bribed by the owner of the newspaper, Mr. Norton, to write a speech about creating a third political party, the John Doe Party, with the rich being the leaders. It is exactly the opposite of what the John Doe movement stands for. By now, John believes in the John Doe movement as he sees what good it is bringing to the workers of America. John tries to tell the truth and expose Mr. Norton’s plan except Mr. Norton gets to the people first. The people learn and the John Doe movement dies and John Willoughby becomes nothing but a laugh. Time passes and soon it is Christmas Eve. John plans on committing suicide but Anne and a few followers still believe in John. Listening to their words and Anne’s speech, he decides against it and carries Anne to the elevator.

I thought this film was brilliant. I’m not sure why it’s not more recognized but I guess it’ll be a gem for those who decide to dive deeper in Capra’s filmography.

John Willoughby plays the Christ-like figure in the film. Even though his philosophy is created by Anne’s father, John is still someone the people can look up to and listen to. They take John seriously and listen to what he has to say. His speeches, containing the basics of Jesus’s teachings, inspire the John Does to get to know their neighbors and help each other out. They refuse to allow politicians in their clubs because it could bring corruption and defeat their purpose. When the truth is exposed, the people don’t know how to react. They placed all their faith and respect in one man and expect him to be a God. But that’s what they miss; they don’t see the idea of the movement but can only see the man and how he hurt them.

It is not fair that John isn’t given the chance to explain. When he tries to talk to the crowd at the convention, Mr. Norton’s police men cut the cords to the microphones. Thus the broken communication causes chaos among the people and they turn against him. The people soon become cynical again and give up their John Doe clubs and return to normal. Though John still hasn’t given up. He plans to follow through with the suicide because he fully believes in the idea, especially now that everyone has turned against him. Anne, the founders of the John Doe club, and Mr. Norton are the only ones who believe John will jump off the building and commit suicide. When Anne finds him up there, she cries, “If it’s worth dying for, it’s worth living for!” The basis of the John Doe movement has been around for 2,000 years and she tells him that it’s people like him who remind others of it. She tells him they can start clean and we can hope that by the end of the movie they do for it’s to great a cause to give up on.

This film is patriotic while also incorporating teachings of Christianity. It claims that America is wonderful because we can do and say what we want and get by with the help of our neighbors (society). We do not need the rich to help us for we have our own who have built the basic blocks of civilization to helps us out.

I’m afraid this review isn’t coming out as I planned (I’m completely tired and am all over the place) but I guess the best thing to say is that this film shows the people of America can become completely one, whole, united if we join together and help one another.


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