The Garden Theater in Princeton has been playing classic movies as part of their Hollywood Summer Nights series, and this week they showed Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. I was looking forward to this screening for a very long time (I think I've had it marked on my calendar for at least two months) and it was everything I hoped for and more.
First of all, let's just get this out of the way first -- Gary Cooper. HIS FACE. OH MY GOD HIS FACE. It's just so perfect. I seriously wanted to yell "PAUSE!" and just sit there in the darkness staring at his face a little while longer (okay, that sounded way creepier than I meant it to be?) but he is just so pretttttyyyy. (I've clearly forsaken any intentions I ever had about this being a serious film blog.) And his expressions are so darn cute. Like in the scene when he first takes Jean Arthur out to dinner and watches as the violinist serenades her -- I died. They had to move my body out of the aisle after the movie was over so that rest of my row could get out. Because I actually died from the cuteness. And then when (SPOILER) he finds out that Jean Arthur was the one writing the mean articles about him, and his broken heart is etched all over his beautiful face, but he smiles just a little bit to try to retain some dignity... man oh man. (END SPOILER)
Ok, done talking about Gary Cooper's face. Moving on...
Wearing my Gary Cooper fan club button, of course
Obviously, Gary Cooper is one of my favorite things about this movie. But I also love every single other thing about it. Jean Arthur is perfection and all of the supporting characters were perfectly cast. And then there's Frank Capra and Robert Riskin, possibly my favorite director/writer duo of all time. Like any good Capra film, there are quite a few messages sprinkled (or doused) throughout, but my favorite is that we should all treat each other with kindness. Longfellow Deeds is a well-meaning, sweet, good man who gets bullied and picked on and taunted from every direction. And he just can't wrap his brain around why. Like Longfellow, I cannot understand why human beings can't just be nice to each other. I don't get it when it comes to war, I don't get it when it comes to schoolyard bullying. I just don't understand intentional meanness. Two of my favorite quotes from Longfellow Deeds --
"What puzzles me is why people seem to get so much pleasure out of... hurting each other? Why don't they try liking each other once in a while?"
"It's easy to make fun of somebody if you don't care how much you hurt 'em. I think your poems are swell, Mr. Brookfield... but I'm disappointed in you. I must look funny to you... but maybe if you went to Mandrake Falls you'd look just as funny to us... only nobody would laugh at you and make you feel ridiculous... because that wouldn't be good manners."
Another message that the film drives home is that we should help out our fellow man. The movie begins with Longfellow Deeds inheriting 20 million dollars and being shuffled off to New York City where he's expected to spend a good deal of that money on things like the opera and an arsenal of lawyers. After suffering countless humiliations and dealing with some pretty intense pangs of homesickness, Longfellow decides to donate the bulk of his fortune to buy land for farmers who could use a helping hand. The fact that he wants to help people less fortunate, rather than shower himself in luxuries and supply his wealthy lawyers with a steady stream of funding, means he simply MUST be insane.
After taking the stand at his insanity trial, the judge remarks that not only is Longfellow Deeds sane, but he's the sanest man who ever set foot in that courtroom. I'd venture to say, he's one of the sanest characters in film history. His notions about what's right and wrong are common sense, but the world seems to view common sense as heresy. That's the thing about a Capra film -- at the end goodness and love will always win. John Doe doesn't jump off the building, Longfellow Deeds isn't sent to a mental institution, and Anthony P. Kirby realizes that you really can't take it with you. I wish that was the world we lived in, I wish it so badly.
I'll end with one last quote from Longfellow, explaining at his trial why he wanted to give his money away to people who needed it more than he did --
"It's like I'm out in a big boat, and I see one fellow in a rowboat who's tired of rowing and wants a free ride, and another fellow who's drowning. Who would you expect me to rescue? Mr. Cedar - who's just tired of rowing and wants a free ride? Or those men out there who are drowning? Any ten year old child will give you the answer to that."
God I love that quote. (And Gary Cooper's face...)