Mr. Deeds Goes to Town – 1936
This was a quirky little film starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur. It is listed as a screwball comedy, though there was very little about it that I found funny. Screwball yes, but comedy?
Cooper plays the title character of Mr. Deeds. He is a country simpleton with more good intentions than sense who inherits $20 million from a great uncle he never knew existed. To inform him of his good fortune, two men travel from New York to his two-bit little town of Mandrake Falls, Vermont. They are John Cedar and Cornelius Cobb, played by Douglass Dumbrille and Lionel Stander, Respectively. The first is a shady lawyer who wants the money for his firm. The second is an ex-newspaper man who is hired to keep reporters away from the inheritor. I actually really liked Stander as an actor and thought he did a good job.
The two men whisk Mr. Deeds away to New York where he proceeds to make a fool of himself because of his quaint and quirky country ways and sensibilities. And here is where I had my first problem with the plot. Sure a man can act silly if he wants to. But he had a habit of behaving like a child, and that was supposed to be the film’s comedy.
The filmmakers were basically saying, “Look how moronic the sweet little country bumpkin is being. Aren’t his ridiculous antics cute?” But then when his juvenile behavior turns out to contain just good ol’ country values and down to earth sense, he is depicted as being the smartest and sanest man in New York. I really had to role my eyes. No. Childish behavior is childish behavior and while there is a place for it, it is really hard to take those who use it seriously.
But as a screwball comedy, we have to have the romantic interest, otherwise Mr. Deeds cannot end up truly happy in the end. That is where Jean Arthur comes in. She is Louise “Babe” Bennett, an ace reporter assigned to get the scoop on the mysterious new multi-millionaire. Her scheme is to bump into him and lie to him, go out with him and get him to like her so that she can write her news stories. So what do you think will happen?
Well, it does. She falls for him and his honest country ways. For her, he is a refreshing change from all the evil liars she is used to in New York. But once she realizes she is in love with him, Cobb, who has also been won over by the upright Mr. Deeds, tells him who she is. Did you have any doubts?
Cooper did a good enough job in the role. I just wasn’t terribly impressed with the role. Maybe he just seemed like a super nice guy that anyone would want to know to the audiences of 1936. He had an innocence about him that was as attractive as his face. He saw the world through that innocence and invited the audience to once again see everything with the same child-like wonder.
Jean Arthur did a good job and was pretty easy on the eyes as well. There was an easiness about her that showed through despite the hard-hitting reporter character that she was portraying. And I liked that they didn’t have her wearing any over-the-top costumes. She was a perfectly reasonable woman.
The film ended with a cute courtroom scene in which a pair of greedy relatives tried to have him declared mentally incompetent so that they could get control of the inheritance. Several minor characters from the film are brought in to serve as witnesses to prove the case. At first, Mr. Deeds, distraught over Babe’s betrayal doesn’t even try to defend himself. But during the trial, the truth is revealed. She does love him!
He finally starts to speak in his own defense, categorically poking holes in each witness’s attack. He proves that he is not only sane, but he is more mentally competent than anyone else thanks to those good ol’ country values and that down to earth sense. And there go my eyes rolling again.
All in all, it was an average and predictable film. I thought it no better than any other screwball comedy. In fact, I can think of others I liked even better. I guess I just have a bit of a higher standard when it comes to a Best Picture Nominee.