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Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town(1936)

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teaser Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

SYNOPSIS

Small-town poet Longfellow Deeds inherits $20 million from an uncle hebarely knew. His benefactor's big city lawyers expect him to be easilymanipulated as they continue to profit from the estate at the expense ofthe poor and downtrodden, but Deeds proves to be an eccentric independentdetermined to use his fortune to help Depression America. Complicatingmatters is his involvement with Babe Bennett, a beautiful woman he thinksis just another unfortunate, not realizing she's the tabloid reporter who'sbeen making a mockery of him in the press. When Deeds' lawyers set out tohave him declared insane, the stage is set for a showdown as inspiring asit is comic.

Producer/Director: Frank Capra
Screenplay: Robert Riskin
Based on the Story "Opera Hat" by Clarence Buddington Kelland
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Editing: Gene Havlick
Art Direction: Stephen Goosson
Music: Howard Jackson
Cast: Gary Cooper (Longfellow Deeds), Jean Arthur (Babe Bennett), GeorgeBancroft (Mac Wade), Lionel Stander (Cornelius Cobb), Douglass Dumbrille(John Cedar), Raymond Walburn (Walter), H.B. Warner (Judge May), RuthDonnelly (Mabel Dawson), Walter Catlett (Morrow), John Wray (Farmer), AnnDoran (Girl on Bus), George "Gabby" Hayes (Farmer's Spokesman), Mayo Methot(Mrs. Semple), Dennis O'Keefe (Reporter in Courtroom), Franklin Pangborn(Tailor)
BW-115m.

Why Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is Essential

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town marked a change in director Frank Capra'sfilms. It was the first time he consciously tried to make a socialstatement. The film's success would lead him to continue to make sociallyoriented films, including You Can't Take It With You (1938), Mr.Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Meet John Doe (1941) andIt's a Wonderful Life (1946). All of them dramatized the sametheme, which Capra would define as "the rebellious cry of the individualagainst being trampled to an ort by massiveness -- mass production, massthought, mass education, mass politics, mass wealth, mass conformity."Some critics have affectionately (and at times not so affectionately)labeled this viewpoint "Capra-corn."

From this point on, Capra refused to accept just any film that came outof the writing department. Instead, he insisted on spending six months toa year getting each of his scripts ready for production. As such, heinspired other directors to seek more control over their films. Thatcontrol and his penchant for stories that tackled society's ills made himone of the first directors hailed as an auteur when French criticslike Francois Truffaut began focusing their work on the director and hispersonality.

This was the seventh of 12 films on which Capra would collaborate withscreenwriter Robert Riskin, who played a key role in the development of Capra'sdirectorial style. Their other collaborations included It HappenedOne Night (1934), You Can't Take It With You and Meet JohnDoe. Riskin won a Best Screenplay Oscar® for It Happened OneNight.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town established the screen persona that GaryCooper would play for the rest of his career. Whereas previously he hadbeen a popular male sex symbol, making screens sizzle as he sharedlove scenes with the likes of Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich, afterDeeds he was seen as a pure, homespun all-American type. Future Cooper characters would be easily vamped by the likes of BarbaraStanwyck and Ingrid Bergman. As compensation for losing the smoldering sexuality of his previous screen persona,he would become one of the screen's most beloved stars and win Oscars®for playing all-American heroes in Sergeant York (1941) and HighNoon (1952).

Mr. Deeds also made it possible for Cooper to maintain hisindependence from the Hollywood studios. It was the first film he madeafter completing his contractual obligations to Paramount Pictures andindependent producer Sam Goldwyn. Its success made it unnecessary for himto sign another long-term studio contract.

Jean Arthur had been making films since 1923, but had made no greatimpact before Mr. Deeds except for her appearance in John Ford's1935 The Whole Town's Talking, starring Edward G. Robinson andco-written by Riskin. With Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, she finallyburst through to screen stardom.

Capra would re-team with Cooper for Meet John Doe, another taleof a simple man who takes on the powers of corruption. He would use Arthuras his leading lady again in You Can't Take It With You and Mr.Smith Goes to Washington.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

SYNOPSIS

Small-town poet Longfellow Deeds inherits $20 million from an uncle hebarely knew. His benefactor's big city lawyers expect him to be easilymanipulated as they continue to profit from the estate at the expense ofthe poor and downtrodden, but Deeds proves to be an eccentric independentdetermined to use his fortune to help Depression America. Complicatingmatters is his involvement with Babe Bennett, a beautiful woman he thinksis just another unfortunate, not realizing she's the tabloid reporter who'sbeen making a mockery of him in the press. When Deeds' lawyers set out tohave him declared insane, the stage is set for a showdown as inspiring asit is comic.

Producer/Director: Frank Capra
Screenplay: Robert Riskin
Based on the Story "Opera Hat" by Clarence Buddington Kelland
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Editing: Gene Havlick
Art Direction: Stephen Goosson
Music: Howard Jackson
Cast: Gary Cooper (Longfellow Deeds), Jean Arthur (Babe Bennett), GeorgeBancroft (Mac Wade), Lionel Stander (Cornelius Cobb), Douglass Dumbrille(John Cedar), Raymond Walburn (Walter), H.B. Warner (Judge May), RuthDonnelly (Mabel Dawson), Walter Catlett (Morrow), John Wray (Farmer), AnnDoran (Girl on Bus), George "Gabby" Hayes (Farmer's Spokesman), Mayo Methot(Mrs. Semple), Dennis O'Keefe (Reporter in Courtroom), Franklin Pangborn(Tailor)
BW-115m.

Why Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is Essential

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town marked a change in director Frank Capra'sfilms. It was the first time he consciously tried to make a socialstatement. The film's success would lead him to continue to make sociallyoriented films, including You Can't Take It With You (1938), Mr.Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Meet John Doe (1941) andIt's a Wonderful Life (1946). All of them dramatized the sametheme, which Capra would define as "the rebellious cry of the individualagainst being trampled to an ort by massiveness -- mass production, massthought, mass education, mass politics, mass wealth, mass conformity."Some critics have affectionately (and at times not so affectionately)labeled this viewpoint "Capra-corn."

From this point on, Capra refused to accept just any film that came outof the writing department. Instead, he insisted on spending six months toa year getting each of his scripts ready for production. As such, heinspired other directors to seek more control over their films. Thatcontrol and his penchant for stories that tackled society's ills made himone of the first directors hailed as an auteur when French criticslike Francois Truffaut began focusing their work on the director and hispersonality.

This was the seventh of 12 films on which Capra would collaborate withscreenwriter Robert Riskin, who played a key role in the development of Capra'sdirectorial style. Their other collaborations included It HappenedOne Night (1934), You Can't Take It With You and Meet JohnDoe. Riskin won a Best Screenplay Oscar® for It Happened OneNight.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town established the screen persona that GaryCooper would play for the rest of his career. Whereas previously he hadbeen a popular male sex symbol, making screens sizzle as he sharedlove scenes with the likes of Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich, afterDeeds he was seen as a pure, homespun all-American type. Future Cooper characters would be easily vamped by the likes of BarbaraStanwyck and Ingrid Bergman. As compensation for losing the smoldering sexuality of his previous screen persona,he would become one of the screen's most beloved stars and win Oscars®for playing all-American heroes in Sergeant York (1941) and HighNoon (1952).

Mr. Deeds also made it possible for Cooper to maintain hisindependence from the Hollywood studios. It was the first film he madeafter completing his contractual obligations to Paramount Pictures andindependent producer Sam Goldwyn. Its success made it unnecessary for himto sign another long-term studio contract.

Jean Arthur had been making films since 1923, but had made no greatimpact before Mr. Deeds except for her appearance in John Ford's1935 The Whole Town's Talking, starring Edward G. Robinson andco-written by Riskin. With Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, she finallyburst through to screen stardom.

Capra would re-team with Cooper for Meet John Doe, another taleof a simple man who takes on the powers of corruption. He would use Arthuras his leading lady again in You Can't Take It With You and Mr.Smith Goes to Washington.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Pop Culture 101 - MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town introduced the words "pixilated" and"doodle" to the vocabulary.

In 1969, ABC premiered a half-hour situation comedy based on the film.It starred Monte Markham as Longfellow Deeds and Pat Harrington, Jr. as thePR man he inherited from his wealthy uncle. Scheduled opposite the vastlypopular Hogan's Heroes, it only lasted half a season.

In a speech before the National Alliance of Business in 1981, PresidentRonald Reagan would quote from Mr. Deeds Goes to Town to defend hisadministration's economic policies and his espousal of volunteerism overfederal welfare programs.

In 2002, Adam Sandler played the title role in a loose remake titledMr. Deeds. Winona Rider was Babe Bennett, with John Turturro as thebutler and Peter Gallagher as the head lawyer. As a tribute to theoriginal film, they used the Mandrake Falls sign from the earlier film.The remake was not well-received by critics, most of whom complained thatit vulgarized the original material.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN - Trivia and Other Fun Stuff

Director Frank Capra was paid $159,500 for making Mr. Deeds Goes toTown, his contractual salary of $100,000 per picture plus a bonus. Hiscontract also gave him 10 percent of the film's profits, which over timewould amount to $299,406.

Rentals during the initial release of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town came toa high for the time $1,040,767. By 1985, it had earned over $3 million,most of it back when movie tickets cost less than a dollar.

Although Gary Cooper had a minimalist acting style that fit hisinnocent, homespun heroes perfectly, the roles he played were a far cryfrom the man off-screen. The real Cooper, despite his Montana roots, was aworldly sophisticate who collected modern art and had off-screen romanceswith some of the screen's most beautiful actresses, including Lupe Velezand Patricia Neal.

Jean Arthur was so unsure of herself that though she saw the film'srushes, she couldn't make herself watch Mr. Deeds Goes to Town inits finished form until 1972, when she accompanied Capra to a screening atthe USA Film Festival in Dallas.

Other cast members who worked with Cooper frequently include RaymondWalburn (Walter), who was in four of his films; H.B. Warner (Judge May),who was in five and won an Oscar® nomination for Capra's LostHorizon (1937); and Ann Doran (Girl on Bus), who appeared in five butwas only credited on You Can't Take It With You.

Cooper and Jean Arthur re-teamed later that year as Wild Bill Hickokand Calamity Jane in Cecil B. DeMille's epic Western ThePlainsman (1937).

Babe's description of Deeds as "The Cinderella Man" in her newspaperstories was borrowed from an earlier Capra-Riskin film, PlatinumBlonde (1931), in which a hard-nosed reporter earns the title when hemarries a beautiful heiress.

Despite the film's socially progressive tone, Capra was a Republicanwho resented President Roosevelt and his New Deal for encroaching on hisnewfound wealth. He also opposed the creation of the Screen DirectorsGuild.

Cooper, too, was more conservative than his character. In 1947 he wasone of the "friendly witnesses" testifying before the House Un-AmericanActivities Committee (HUAC) about Communist infiltration of Hollywood.Among the actors blacklisted as a result of HUAC's hearings was LionelStander, who played the cynical press agent in Mr. Deeds Goes toTown.

Famous Quotes from MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN

"WELCOME TO MANDRAKE FALLS
WHERE THE SCENERY ENTHRALLS
WHERE NO HARDSHIP E'ER BEFALLS
WELCOME TO MANDRAKE FALLS" -- Town sign for Mandrake Falls, written by GaryCooper as Longfellow Deeds.

"I wonder why he left me all that money. I don't need it." -- Cooper asLongfellow Deeds, questioning his good fortune.

"Tell me, Walter, are all these stories I hear about my uncle true?"
Well, sir, he sometimes had as many as 20 [women] in the house at the sametime."
"Twenty! What did he do with them?"
"That is something I was never able to find out, sir." -- Cooper as Deeds,questioning Raymond Walburn as his butler, Walter.

"People here are funny. They work so hard at living, they forget how tolive." -- Cooper as Deeds.

"I know I must look funny to you, but maybe if you went to Mandrake Falls,you'd look just as funny to us, only we wouldn't laugh at you and make youfeel ridiculous, because that wouldn't be good manners. I guess maybe itis comical to write poems for postcards, but a lot of people thinkthey're good. Anyway, it's the best I can do." -- Cooper as Deeds,defending himself against the jeers of the New York literati.

"That guy is either the dumbest, stupidest, most imbecilic idiot in theworld, or else he's the grandest thing alive. I can't make him out." --Jean Arthur as Babe Bennett, delivering her judgment of Deeds'character.

"I just wanted to see what a man looked like that could spend thousands ofdollars on a party when people around him were hungry." -- John Wray as theFarmer, threatening Deeds and inspiring his social conscience.

"He's been hurt, he's been hurt by everybody he met since he came here,principally by me. He's been the victim of every conniving crook in town.The newspapers pounced on him, made him a target for their feeble humor. Iwas smarter than the rest of them: I got closer to him, so I could laughlouder. Why shouldn't he keep quiet -- every time he said anything it wastwisted around to sound imbecilic! He can thank me for it. I handed thegang a grand laugh. It's a fitting climax to my sense of humor....CertainlyI wrote those articles. I was going to get a raise, a month's vacation. ButI stopped writing them when I found out what he was all about, when Irealized how real he was. He could never fit in with our distortedviewpoint, because he's honest, and sincere, and good. If that man's crazy,Your Honor, the rest of us belong in straitjackets!" -- Arthur, as BabeBennett, defending Deeds in court.

"About my playing the tuba. Seems like a lot of fuss has been made aboutthat. If, if a man's crazy just because he plays the tuba, then somebody'dbetter look into it, because there are a lot of tuba players running aroundloose." -- Deeds defending himself on the witness stand.

"Why, everybody in Mandrake Falls is pixilated -- except us." -- MargaretSeddon as Jane Faulkner, describing her hometown, herself and her sister(Margaret McWade as Amy Faulkner).

"From what I can see, no matter what system of government we have, there'llalways be leaders and always be followers. It's like the road out in frontof my house. It's on a steep hill. Every day I watch the cars coming up.Some go lickety-split up that hill on high, some have to shift into second,and some sputter and shake and slip back to the bottom again. Same cars --same gasoline -- yet some make it and some can't. And I say the fellowswho can make the hill on high should stop once in a while to help those whocan't. That's all I'm trying to do with this money -- help the fellows whocan't make the hill on high." -- Deeds explaining his plans to thecourt.

"Mr. Deeds, there has been a great deal of damaging testimony against you.Your behavior, to say the least, has been most strange. But in the opinionof the court, you are not only sane, but you're the sanest man that everwalked into this courtroom!" -- H.B. Warner as Judge May, delivering hisverdict.

"He's still pixilated."
"He sure is!" -- Seddon as Jane Faulkner and McWade as Amy Faulkner,ending the film with their final judgment on Deeds.

Compiled by Frank Miller

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teaser Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

The Big Idea Behind MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN

After his blockbuster success with It Happened One Night (1934),director Frank Capra considered several properties as a follow-up. Aserious illness left him determined to tackle more significant topics as away of justifying his growing good fortune. Among the works he read mostclosely were Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Dostoyevsky's Crime andPunishment, Maxwell Anderson's historical play Valley Forge andClarence Buddington Kelland's short story "Opera Hat."

Ultimately he decided he didn't feel he understood the Russian spiritenough to direct one of that country's classic novels and was toocontemporary for the historical story. That left "Opera Hat."

"Opera Hat" was the story of country boy Longfellow Deeds, who inherits$20 million and an Opera House in New York City. The story focusedprimarily on his dealings with the opera crowd.

Kelland was also the author of a series of comic stories aboutScattergood Baines, small-town businessman. They were filmed at RKOStudios in the early '40s as a vehicle for character comic GuyKibbee.

Capra was drawn to the story because he found the premise intriguing.He would later write: "I wanted to see what an honest small-town man woulddo with $20,000,000 -- how he would handle it and how he would handle allthe predators that would surround him, and what good would come out of thatthing, what statements you could make about a man being his brother'skeeper."

He asked Harry Cohn, the production chief at Columbia Studios, where hewas under contract, to buy the story for him and assign Robert Riskin, whohad won an Oscar® for writing It Happened One Night, to writethe adaptation.

The first thing he and Riskin did was minimize the opera angle, whichCapra considered too highbrow for general audiences. Instead they focused on how Deeds would handlehis sudden fortune in the middle of the Great Depression. In place of aninnocent secretary with whom Deeds falls in love, they created BabeBennett, a cynical newspaper woman modeled on Clark Gable's character inIt Happened One Night.

Capra biographer Joseph McBride (Frank Capra: The Catastrophe ofSuccess, Simon & Shuster, 1992) has suggested that Capra's ideal of thelittle man, first realized on film in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, wasinspired by Mr. Blue, a 1928 novel by actor Walter Connolly, afriend of Capra's who appeared in four of his films. The novel tells of amodern Christ figure trying to maintain his purity in the midst of a moderncity.

Director Frank Capra could only envision one actor as thequintessential American hero of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. "Who inHollywood could play honest, humble, 'corn tassel poet' Mr. Deeds," hewrote. "Only one actor: Gary Cooper. Every line in his face spelledhonesty. So innate was his integrity he could be cast in phony parts, butnever look phony himself. Tall, gaunt as Lincoln, cast in the frontiermold of Daniel Boone, Sam Houston, Kit Carson, this silent Montanacowpuncher embodied the true-blue virtues that won the West: Durability,honesty and native intelligence."

Capra had a much harder time finding a leading lady. Carole Lombardturned the film down three days before shooting was scheduled to start(shortly afterwards she turned down Riskin's proposal of marriage, too).The role was still unfilled when Capra started shooting the film. He laterclaimed he caught some rushes from a Jack Holt Western and was struck byleading lady Jean Arthur's talents and her husky voice -- only she nevermade a Western with Jack Holt and her previous film with him, TheDefense Rests (1934), was released a year before Deeds went intoproduction. More likely, he saw her performance in The Whole Town'sTalking, which had been co-written by Riskin. She had been in filmsso long without any success, that he had to fight to get studio head HarryCohn to let him cast her.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Behind the Camera on MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN

Gary Cooper's relaxed acting style mirrored his off-stage approach tothe work. Although the film marked a major step in his career, betweenscenes he would often lie down on the floor, pull his hat over his eyes andgrab a quick nap in the midst of all the commotion offilmmaking.

Capra, who had first made his name writing and directing for silent comic Harry Langdon, used several tricks from his Langdon films tomake Cooper look young and innocent. In Cooper's first scene, he wears abow tie with a jacket that's too short and tight for him.

Jean Arthur may have been the screen's most neurotic actress. She wasso overcome with stage fright, that she often vomited before scenes andwould run back to her dressing room after each take to have a good cry.Yet she was totally cool on camera. Cooper was one of the few actors whocould make her feel comfortable on the set.

One way Capra maintained control over his work was by refusing to shootif any studio executives came on the set. During Mr. Deeds,whenever Cohn would come on set, Capra would call a half-hour coffee break.The lost time was so expensive, Cohn rarely showed his face.

Capra considered the scene in which Babe reads Deeds' poem about herand realizes he loves her extremely corny. He considered not evenshooting it, but Arthur pleaded that she had worked on it for weeks to playagainst the scene's sentimentality. Then he added the perfect touch, having Deedstrip over a trashcan at the end.

Although Capra always boasted that he never went over budget, Mr.Deeds Goes to Town came in five percent over budget, mainly because heshot from more different angles than he had on his earlier films, bringingthe picture in five days over schedule. The film's final cost was$806,774.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town premiered April 12, 1936 to both criticaland box office success. Columbia Pictures had so much faith in it thatthey sold the film to exhibitors as a one-shot deal, rather than includingit in a package of films designed to sell each other.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN - Trivia and Other Fun Stuff

"Everywhere the picture goes, from the endearing to the absurd, theaccompanying business is carried through with perfect zip and relish." --Otis Ferguson, The New Republic.

"Mr. Deeds is Capra's best film (it is on quite a differentintellectual level from the spirited and delightful It Happened OneNight), and that means it is a comedy quite unmatched on the screen.For Capra has what Lubitsch, the witty playboy, has not: a sense ofresponsibility, and what Clair, whimsical, poetic, a little precious anda la mode, has not, a kinship with his audience, a sense of commonlife, a morality: he has what even Chaplin has not, complete mastery ofhis medium, and that medium the sound film, not the film with soundattached to it....I do not think anyone can watch Mr. Deeds for longwithout being aware of a technician as great as Lang employed on a themewhich profoundly moves him: the theme of goodness and simplicity manhandledin a deeply selfish and brutal world." -- Graham Greene, TheSpectator.

"Gary Cooper turns another corner in a career which has slowly developedhim from a wooden-faced hero of horse-operas into a sensitive player with areticent but wholly American wit." -- Henry T. Murdock, PhiladelphiaEvening Public Ledger.

"Capra, like his hero, with whom he might be identified, is naive, committed, and artful. Mr. Deeds himself can be seen as a kind of Roosevelt accused by his opponents of instituting the New Deal and "wasting millions" in helping the poor and unemployed. Riskin's script is excellent: never mawkish and never merely sermonizing. And Gary Cooper, a gawky rube, fitted his role perfectly." - Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Films.

"The fable of the naive country cousin thrown into New York, and the attempts of cynical people to fleece him, carries some telling comments on cosmopolitan materialism and on the force wielded by the unintimidated individual (one of Capra's recurrent themes). The film's wide popularity was helped by the intriguing casting against type of Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur. One of Longfellow Deeds's Vermont traits which outraged the city slickers originated the verb 'to doodle,' a term that has now gained general currency." - The Oxford Companion to Film.

"Capra's first film to really attack the city; to show that it has deprived its people of their basic human values; as in his later films, only the uncorrupted small-town boy can lead them back to the right path. It never reflects the cynicism of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Meet John Doe or It's a Wonderful Life - it is the only one of the four films where the happy ending seems completely natural. While enjoyable, it's not on the level of the Jimmy Stewart films." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic.

"Before Capra got down to Christmas card morals, he perfected the screwball comedy technique of pursuing common sense to logical ends in a lunatic situation. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is one of the best with Cooper saying nope to a $20 million inheritance, and newshound Jean Arthur going for his 'inside story'..." - Don Macpherson, TimeOut.

"Capra's is a great talent all right, but I have the uneasy feeling he's onhis way out. He's starting to make movies about themes instead of aboutpeople." -- Alistair Cooke, BBC and NBC Radio."Frank Capra destroyed Gary Cooper's early sex appeal when he made himchildish as Mr. Deeds. Cooper, once devastatingly lean and charming, theman Tallulah [Bankhead] and Marlene [Dietrich] had swooned over, began toact like an old woman and went on to a long sexless career -- fumbling,homey, mealy-mouthed." -- Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at theMovies.

Awards & Honors

Starting off the awards season with a bang, Mr. Deeds Goes toTown won the National Board of Review's Best Pictureaward.

The New York Film Critics named it Best Picture on only the secondballot. The only film to come close to it in the votes was Fritz Lang'santi-lynching drama Fury. They passed over Gary Cooper for BestActor in favor of Walter Huston, who had re-created his stage performancein Dodsworth, and Frank Capra for Rouben Mamoulian for The GayDesperado.

Mr. Deeds Goes toTown was nominated for five Oscars®: Best Picture, BestDirector, Best Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Sound. It only won oneaward - for Best Director for Capra. The trade papers theorized thatWarner Bros. and MGM had worked a deal whereby Warners employees voted forMGM's big film, The Great Ziegfeld, for Best Picture, while MGM'semployees backed Warner's contract player Paul Muni's performance in TheStory of Louis Pasteur for Best Actor. At the time he was appearing inMGM's The Good Earth, which he had made on loan fromWarner's.

Some industry insiders thought Capra's selection for Best Director wasa political choice. He was president of the Academy® and had beenfighting against the unionization of actors and directors. When hereceived the award, Capra said, "I don't see how anybody could look overthese nominees and pick one out." Host George Jessel quipped, "Well, theyall may be president of the Academy someday, and they can select whom theyplease."

At the time, the Academy® revealed the voting order for the awards.Muni had beaten second-place Cooper by a wide margin, but Capra had onlybested his closest competition, W.S. Van Dyke for San Francisco andGregory La Cava for My Man Godfrey, by a few votes.

Compiled by Frank Miller & Jeff Stafford

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teaser Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) was based on a book called Opera Hat, about a simple country boy named Longfellow Deeds who inherits $20 million and an opera house in New York. Deeds goes to the city to pick up his inheritance, only to be badgered by various sharks who all want a piece of the inheritance. Frank Capra loved the idea of the story (minus the opera part), and in 1935 he asked Columbia Studios chief Harry Cohn to buy it. Having just directed It Happened One Night and Broadway Bill (both in 1934), Capra at this point was entering the peak period of his career. Cohn not only acquired the property but gave Capra above-the-title credit for the first time ("Frank Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town") and left him alone to make the picture. Cohn even let him cast perennial B-player Jean Arthur after the director spotted her in a minor Western. Cohn was smart to do all this, for Capra would go on to win his second directing Oscar. (He also picked up his first Best Picture nomination, and Robert Riskin was nominated for the script.)

Capra considered Mr. Deeds Goes to Town "the first of a series of social-minded films in which I presumed to 'say' something to the audience. Whatever "my films" said had to come from those ideas inside me that were hurting to come out. No more would I accept scripts hurriedly written and count on my ability to juggle many balls in the air to make films entertaining - Regardless of the origin of a film idea, I made it mine." The message of Mr. Deeds was that it's noble to be an honest human being. To Capra, Longfellow Deeds "was not just a funny man cavorting in frothy situations. He was the living symbol of the deep rebellion in every human heart - a growing resentment against being compartmentalized. And when he used only his simple weapons of honesty, wit and courage, audiences not only laughed, they cheered!"

Only one actor in Hollywood could play this humble, tuba-playing country poet and get away with it: Gary Cooper. "Every line in his face spelled honesty," wrote Capra. "So innate was his integrity, he could be cast in phony parts but never look phony himself." Cooper's naturalistic technique as Mr. Deeds brought him his first Oscar nomination. He said, "Naturalness is hard to talk about, but I guess it boils down to this: You find out what people expect of your type of character and then you give them what they want." Cooper noted some parallels between Mr. Deeds' sudden wealth/fame and Cooper's own rising stardom. "Both of us had unexpected fortune dumped in our laps," he said. "Deeds got his bequest. The movies gave me mine, by degrees."

Though she'd already appeared in an astonishing 70 films, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town was Jean Arthur's breakthrough A-picture. She plays "Babe," a reporter who pretends to befriend Deeds so that she can secretly write articles that mock him. She became Capra's favorite actress, but the director was surprised at her nervousness. "Never have I seen a performer plagued with such a chronic case of stage jitters," he wrote. "I'm sure she vomited before and after every scene. When the cameras stopped she'd run headlong to her dressing room, lock herself in, and cry." But in front of the cameras, Jean Arthur was perfect.

Producer/Director: Frank Capra
Screenplay: Robert Riskin, Clarence Budington Kelland (story)
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Film Editing: Gene Havlick
Art Direction: Stephen Goosson
Music: Howard Jackson
Cast: Gary Cooper (Longfellow Deeds), Jean Arthur (Louise "Babe" Bennett), George Bancroft (Editor Mac Wade), Lionel Stander (Cornelius Cobb), Douglass Dumbrille (John Cedar), Raymond Walburn (Walter).
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by Jeremy Arnold

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