Meet John Doe: Fighting for Social Integrity
Each age range has it own way of looking at itself. In the United States, as an example, the late 1930s and the 1940s was the age of the common man. Millions of Americans gloried in being average and unsophisticated. They saw themselves simply as faces in a multitude of poor people struggling to get along during hard times.In Meet John Doe, Frank Copra illustrates the common man with someone named John Doe. It is one of the classic films that Copra did in partnership with Robert Riskin in the early 1940s. The film appeared at the time when the United States continued to come forward from the Great Depression amidst fears of what soon became World War II. This film captures a man who is desperately in need of money and agrees to imitate a non-existent person, who announces jumping off the City Hall roof on Christmas Eve in protest against social injustice. What makes this film unique is how Capra depicts populism–the confederation of common people for a common purpose, something that can bring people together in a country that is dealing with economic hardship.
The film opens with a struggling journalist, Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck), who is in the process of being fired by her new managing editor, Henry Connell (James Gleason), because her writing contains too much lavender and old lace and lacks fireworks. To secure her job and support both her mother and two younger sisters, she writes a letter for The New Bulletin, in which she puts together a story about an imaginary man name John Doe.
When the counterfeit story goes to press, it stirs up a huge public reaction. This is where she has the opportunity to get her job back. She then pleads with Henry Connell into playing up the John Doe letter; however, in order to let people and other publishers know the letter is not at fraud, they decide to hire someone to pose as John Doe, an average man. This is where Gary Cooper comes in.
Gary Cooper plays is Long John Willoughby, a former baseball player forced to retire because of an arm injury. He is unemployed, aimless, and hungry. Ann Mitchell is looking for someone to play the role of John Doe, and luckily he got accepted. He does not know what the position is, but because he really needs money to buy food and a place to live, he agrees to play the role.
According to Capra and Riskin, the national depression of the time did not reflect lack of community, but instead a lack of self-worth among common people, which leads them to embrace the hesitant Doe. For instance, one of the scenes they illustrate in the film is when John Doe makes his first speech about his faith in the vital integrity of the common man and encourages brotherly love with ones neighbor-the guy next door, ones teammate.
Your neighbor-hes a terribly important guy, that guy next door. Youre gonna need him and hes gonna need you, so look him up. If hes sick, call on him. If hes hungry, feed him. If hes out of a job, find him one. T o most of you, your neighbor is a stranger, a guy with a barkin dog and a high fence around him. Now you cant be a stranger to any guy thats on your own team. So tear down the fence that separates you. Tear down the fence and youll tear down a lot of hates and prejudices. Tear down all the fences in the country and youll really have teamwork. (Capra)
After the show, people are deeply influenced by his speech and begin forming clubs to carry out the principles. For instance, in gratitude, Bert Hansen (Regis Toomey) and his wife Ann Doran tells Doe how his message of Love Thy Neighbor has changed their lives with their irritable elderly neighbor, Smithers (J. Farrell McDonald). They form a John Doe Club in the schoolhouse and suddenly become friends with their neighbors. In addition, through conceived in sarcasm, the speech strikes the public in such fashion, that John Doe clubs pop up all over the country.
This film is the celebration of the Gold Rule, which is muted by the fact that although the principles and objectives of the John Doe Movement are admirable, John Doe is a fraud.Also, although Ann Mitchell and others endorse their faith in Jon Doe during the final scene on Christmas Eve atop city hall, there is no reason to think that the movement can continues. For instance, in the earlier scene, Nortons troops quickly shut down the Movement rally, where he actually threatens Ann, that he will kill the John Doe Movement if she does not play along with his plan. I will never forget how Doe struggling to be heard, speaking into a microphone after its unplug and had been pulled by Nortons quasi fascists. People such as Norton with almost unlimited resources allow such movement only if they pose no threat and/or can be exploited somehow to their own advantage.
Over all, Meet John Doe is a magnificent classic film that was made during the pessimistic times. It is an inspirational tale about a man posing as a suicide victim because of the depression. With Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck talents, they make the final scene credible because Capra has made his point: The world would be a much better place if everyone practiced the Gold Rule. As the example of John Doe suggests, if it is worth dying for, then it is certainly worth for living for: (Dirks) By scarifying himself as a victim, he hopes that the John Does of the world will continues to unite to improve societal problems and at least bring people together.
Meet John Doe. Dir. Frank Copra. Perf. Barbara Stanwyck (Ann Mitchell) and Gary Copper (John Doe). Videocassette. Marymount University.
Dirks, Tim. “Tim Dirk’s The Greatest Films.” Meet John Doe (1941).