The lost movie of the week: Meet John Doe (1941)

Christmas is a time of family, food and presents. But to put you in the right Christmas spirit you need the right man for the job. Frank Capra Is not only one of Hollywood’s all-time best, he is also one of the best ‘feel good’ directors of all time.

As a parting shot, fired reporter Ann Mitchell prints a fake letter from unemployed “John Doe,” who threatens suicide in protest of social ills. The paper is forced to rehire Ann and hires John Willoughby to impersonate “Doe.” Ann and her bosses cynically milk the story for all it’s worth, until the made-up “John Doe” philosophy starts a whole political movement. At last everyone, even Ann, takes her creation seriously…but publisher D.B. Norton has a secret plan. (IMDB).

Frank Capra (“Mr. Smith goes to Washington”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “It Happened one Night”) was a gigantic star in his prime, directing some of Hollywood’s biggest classic. Combining the Christmas spirit with political message-laden film explain the fear that existed at the time about the rise of fascism in the US. Even though this seems too hard-hitting for Christmas, it isn’t because Capra’s delivers the perfect balance between melodrama and comedy and creates a true Christmas tale.

Capra always intended to cast Hollywood superstar Gary Cooper for the role, but due to contract problems with other studio’s (very common at the time) was unable to cast Ann Sheridan and Olivia de Havilland for the ‘Ann Mitchell’ role.  He casted Barbara Stanwyck, who was that same year in another Christmas picture worth seeing: “Remember the Night”.

The film was based on the Century Magazine article written by one of the film’s screenwriters Richard Connell. The film went on to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Story and became also a great success at the box-office.

Stanley Berenboom

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