Meet John Doe

Movie Information

In Brief: The great Frank Capra’s most ambitious and disturbing film, Meet John Doe is possibly more relevant today than when it first appeared in 1941. The idea of a completely media-fabricated celebrity — raised almost to the level of deity and used as a tool for political gain — probably seemed pretty fantastic then. Of all Capra’s major films (major in the sense that they “say something”), this one is the darkest, despite a number of comedic moments and a large dose of (very palatable) romance. It’s also his most interesting film now in terms of what we’ve learned in the intervening years about the director himself — that Capra wasn’t quite the sweet everyman of filmmakers he painted himself out to be — adds to the dark edges of this film. If Capra was indeed generally selling “the masses” a bill of goods, extolling the benefits of being the “common man” — with films that painted the wealthy and powerful as not just evil, but unhappy due to that wealth and power — then Meet John Doe becomes the one film that breaks rank, a kind of self-accusatory work. After all, hadn’t Capra himself ridden to his greatest fame and fortune on the strength of fabricated everymen? What these characters never were was an extension of Capra, but tools to put across a message and gain the filmmaker greater power. Rather than diminish the Capra films, however, this knowledge gives them a dark undercurrent and adds a level of complexity that isn’t apparent if his work is taken at face value. Flawed though Meet John Doe may be by its ending, it is the key film in Capra’s filmography and a must-see for anyone interested in classic cinema. This excerpt was taken from a review by Ken Hanke published on Nov. 23, 2005.
Genre: Drama Comedy
Director: Frank Capra
Starring: Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward Arnold, Walter Brennan, James Gleason
Rated: NR

The Asheville Film Society will screen Meet John Doe on Tuesday, Dec. 12, at 7:30 p.m. at the Grail Moviehouse, hosted by Xpress movie critic Scott Douglas

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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