Meet John Doe

Screening on Film
Recently Restored
Directed by Frank Capra.
With Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward Arnold.
US, 1941, 35mm, black & white, 125 min.
Print source: UCLA

So I can truthfully say that it was the box-office customers who made Frank Capra whatever he was or is. […] And yet, and yet – an ego like mine needed – nay, required – the plaudits of sophisticated criticism. Childlike, creativity thirsts for the heady wine of the connoisseur’s acclaim. The ‘Capra-corn’ barbs had pierced the outer blubber.

And so, Meet John Doe, my first completely independent film venture, was aimed at winning critical praises. […] Riskin and I would astonish the critics with contemporary realities: the ugly face of hate; the power of uniformed bigots in red, white, and blue shirts; the agony of disillusionment, and the wild dark passions of mobs […].

We had abandoned our usual formula—a sane, honest ‘man of the people,’ thrust into a confrontation with the forces of evil, wins out with his innate goodness. This time our hero was a bindle stiff, a drifting piece of human flotsam as devoid of ideals as he was of change in his pocket. When the forces of evil tempt him—fine; no skin off his nose if they call him John Doe, the ‘Messiah of goodness,’ in exchange for steaks and fancy clothes. But—discovering he is being used to delude and defraud thousands of innocent people, he rebels. When he tries to tell the deluded people that he had been a fraud, but now believes as they do, the people turn on him, try to tear him limb from limb. So far so good. But now, what happens to John Doe?... In desperation—setting some kind of a pointless record—I was to photograph five different endings, and then try them out on theater audiences […]. — FC

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