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Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (April 22, 2008)

In his autobiography, “The Name Above The Title”, Frank Capra wrote, “Beginning with Mr. Deeds, my films had to say something. . .From then on my scripts would take from six months to a year to write and rewrite; to carefully – and subtly—integrate ideals and entertainment into a meaningful tale. And regardless of the origin of a film idea – I made it mine. . . the thought, heart and substance of a film were mine.”

With this movie, Capra became the Capra we know – the man who made films that spoke about social injustices and said that in America injustice should not be allowed to stand. Because of the success of It Happened One Night, Capra could write his own ticket. That meant – his name was above the title for the first time, and it stayed there. That meant – in the heyday of the studio system, where movies were made by a team, his movies were, unmistakably his movies, as much as, in earlier days, D.W. Griffith’s movies, or Charlie Chaplin’s movies, were theirs.

The story on which the film was based was by Clarence Budington Kelland and was called "Opera Hat", about a small-town hero who inherits millions and an Opera House in New York City. The name “Budington” plays a part in the script, as you will hear. The screenplay was written, again, by Capra’s favorite screenwriter, Robert Riskin. Capra felt that there was no one else for the title role than Gary Cooper. Capra wrote “So innate was his integrity that he could be cast in phony parts, but never look phony himself.” Capra selected an actress for the lead who had never starred before – Jean Arthur. He called her “his favorite actress”, and she stars in the next two films we’ll show as well – You Can’t Take It With You and Mr. Smith. He felt that the part she had to play in Mr. Deeds was none too easy – the journalist she plays begins by deceiving and then is sorry for what she’s done. Arthur developed a reputation of being difficult to work with – though she had a long career making films for many of the most noted directors in Hollywood – primarily because of her extreme stage-fright, which often made her physically sick before she played a scene.

For me the most memorable supporting role is the one played by Lionel Stander, who plays the doorman and publicity man, guardian of access to the newly rich, you might say; though the Faulkner sisters, near the end of the picture, played by Margaret Seddon and Margaret McWade – with no billing at all – are really wonderful.

This movie began production in December 1935, finished in February 1936, and was released the following April. It contributed new words to the language – “doodling” and “pixilated”. Capra won the best director Oscar for this picture, the picture was nominated for best picture, and best screenplay, and Cooper was nominated for best actor. It was another hit for Capra, and I think you’ll see why tonight.