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Mr Deeds Goes To Town
Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . B&W . 111 mins . G . PAL

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There are a few things that sum up the America of last century as Americans would like to see it .

In this 'as American as apple-pie' list we can put The Saturday Evening Post, the illustrations of Norman Rockwell -- and the movies of the master of home-spun movie philosophy, Frank Capra.

Frank Capra in the 1930s specialised in comedy/drama that puts an emphasis on good old (the emphasis on old) American values. His most famous movie is It's a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart, which still gets trotted out for viewing most years around Christmas -- a home-spun drama in which a handy angel shows a would-be suicide just how wonderful his depressing small-town life really is.

Mr Deeds Goes to Town is almost as famous. It stars the great Gary Cooper as Mr Deeds, a country boy who suddenly inherits a fortune. But what does he want to do with it? Well, give it away to people who really need it. This wish of course brands him as totally insane, and he's hauled up to court to be shown as feeble-minded and not deserving of the legacy. And there, apparently leading the pack of baying wolves, is the girl he's fallen in love with, wisecracking journalist 'Babe' Bennett (Jean Arthur), who goes out on dates with the country hick and slips back to her newspaper to write articles condemning him.

On one level it's a great little movie, which has stood up well to the test of time. Although shot in 1936, it moves at a modern rate, the dialogue is fine, and the acting from both Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur is just wonderful to behold.

On another level though, it's disappointing. Frank Capra's homespun philosophies have grown so threadbare as to be totally translucent. His 'New Deal' philosophy about giving the little guy a chance against the rich wolves out there is just too obvious -- his heart is dangling out so far on his sleeve that it's in danger of falling off and being trodden underfoot.

His targets -- greedy lawyers and opportunistic high-class opera-lovers -- are just too obvious. And Mr Deeds' wonderful idea about how to help the deserving poor -- which sounds just great at first sight -- was in fact put into effect in Australia straight after the First World War, with often disastrous consequences.

It is, on the political level, naive in the extreme. But there are some good things going for it ... Capra's obvious hatred of the worst extremes of Capitalism is admirable, and his beautifully crafted courtroom scene, the climax of the movie, is stirring stuff which can still have you cheering your head off. Not too bad really, for a movie more than 70 years old!

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This is a reasonable transfer, showing some wear, but with good tonal depth in its black and white tones. I'd guess that it stems from some second-generation source rather than from an original print, but it is eminently viewable while not being at the amazing level achieved from vintage film-stock in transfers from companies such as Criterion or Warner Brothers.

Sound is clear, though of course lacking any real spatial dimension of any sort. The only extra is an historically informative audio commentary by Frank Capra Jnr.


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  •   And I quote...
    "Let's hear it for good old (emphasis on old) honest American values, in this squeaky-clean comic drama from Mr Home-Town himself, Frank Capra."
    - Anthony Clarke
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