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Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1936) Wonder

Capra strikes again

Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1936) Wonder
Balthasar, Apr 23, 2018
    • Balthasar
      Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is a romantic comedy directed by Frank Capra, starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur in her first featured role. Based on the 1935 short story Opera Hat by Clarence Budington Kelland, which appeared in serial form in The American Magazine, the screenplay was written by Robert Riskin in his fifth collaboration with Frank Capra. Throughout the pre-production and the early principal photography, the project still retained Kelland's original title, Opera Hat, although Capra tried out some other titles including A Gentleman Goes to Town and Cinderella Man before settling on a name that was the winning entry in a contest held by the Columbia Pictures publicity department.

      Originally, Frank Capra intended to make Lost Horizon (1937) after Broadway Bill (1934), but lead actor Ronald Colman couldn't get out of his other filming commitments. So Capra began adapting Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. The two main cast members, Gary Cooper as Longfellow Deeds and Jean Arthur as Louise "Babe" Bennett/Mary Dawson, were cast as production began. Capra's "first, last and only choice" for the pivotal role of the eccentric Longfellow Deeds was Gary Cooper. Due to his other film commitments, production was delayed six months before Cooper was available, incurring costs of $100,000 for the delay in filming.

      Arthur was not the first choice for the role, but Carole Lombard, the original female lead, quit the film just three days before principal photography, in favor of a starring role in My Man Godfrey. The first scenes shot on the Fox Studios' New England street lot were in place before Capra found his replacement heroine in a rush screening. The opening sequences had to be reshot when Capra decided against the broad comedy approach that had originally been written.

      The film is credited with introducing two words into popular usage, if not into the language. The word doodle appears in the film's courtroom scene: Longfellow Deeds, addressing the judge, introduces the word 'doodler' - which the judge has not heard before - as being "a word we made up back home to describe someone who makes foolish designs on paper while they're thinking." (The clear inference is that no one outside his fictional home town of Mandrake Falls could be expected to know the word). The word pixilated, previously limited to New England (and attested there since 1848), "had a nationwide vogue in 1936" thanks to its prominent use in the film, although its use in the screenplay may not be an accurate interpretation. Pixilated (not to be confused with the word "pixelated") is used in this film as meaning "daft" (as if being led around by pixies).

      Despite his penchant for coming in "under budget", Capra spent an additional five shooting days in multiple takes, testing angles and "new" perspectives, treating the production as a type of workshop exercise. Due to the increased shooting schedule, the film came in at $38,936 more than the Columbia budget for a total of $806,774. But Studio Head Harry Cohn had become a believer in Capra, and had so much faith in the film that Columbia sold the film to exhibitors as a one-shot deal, rather than bundling it in the usual package of films designed to sell each other (it was also the first film for which Harry Cohn authorized Frank Capra to have his name above the title).

      The film was well received, and critics and audiences liked it. On paper, it turned out to be Capra's biggest hit, easily surpassing It Happened One Night with an official box office take exceeding $1 million. The film got four Academy Award nominations (including for Best Actor and Best Screenplay), and won Frank Capra his second Oscar for Best Director.

      A planned sequel, titled Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington, eventually became Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Although the latter's screenplay was actually based on an unpublished story, The Gentleman from Montana, the film was, indeed, meant to be a sequel to Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, with Gary Cooper reprising his role as Longfellow Deeds. Because Cooper was unavailable, Capra then "... saw it immediately as a vehicle for Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur", and Stewart was borrowed from MGM.

      Screenwriter Robert Riskin said that it was his favorite of the films that he wrote for Capra. Female lead Jean Arthur said she never saw the film until she and Frank Capra viewed it together as guests at a 1972 film festival.
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