I haven’t had time to write anything new for this blog, but here is another review which I posted on livejournal a while ago…
I was very disappointed by Meet John Doe, as the back of the sleeve of the DVD claimed it was dark and sardonic – but instead it turned out to be one of the most sugary movies I’ve ever seen. I hadn’t seen any Frank Capra before this, and was dismayed by this one, although I have since been won over by first Platinum Blonde and then It’s a Wonderful Life.
Spoilers behind the cut
I was tempted by this movie because it is about a newspaper, and I’ve worked in a newspaper office for many years. There is some good satire of the media business, especially the moment when a sign in the office about freedom of speech is replaced with one about a “streamlined age”. But for me it’s all deadened by the overload of false sweetness – plus the fact that all the characters seem to declaim and lecture one another endlessly rather than having remotely believable conversations!
I still think the basic plot is brilliant – a columnist (Barbara Stanwyck) faced with the sack writes and publishes a fake letter to the newspaper from a man using the pseudonym John Doe, who threatens to jump from the top of City Hall in protest over unemployment and corruption in the town. Then a down-and-out (injured sportsman Gary Cooper) is hired to portray the character of Doe, and ends up becoming just as disillusioned as his fictional counterpart. But the whole terrible logic of this story is that “Doe”should end up committing suicide – which I understand is what happened in the original tale, and also in the first-filmed ending - and it seems like something of a cop-out when, instead, John (Cooper) turns back from the brink.
Part of the plot is a satire on fascism, with thousands of “ordinary John Does” mindlessly following Doe after he gives a supposedly inspiring speech – but this portrayal of ordinary people is again incredibly sugary, with them all apparently being so sweet and good and neighbourly as to be totally unbelievable!
Stanwyck and Cooper are both fine in their roles, and I’d like to see both of them in films which do their talents greater justice.