Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Meet Longfellow Deeds

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

I’ll admit that it took me a while for Gary Cooper to grow on me as an actor and to see his appeal under his minimalist, low key style of acting; but eventfully I got it. It’s been said Cooper’s face was the map of America; so why in under God did they cast Adam Sandler in a remake of Mr Deeds Goes to Town?

Mandrake Falls is a town full of oddballs, and the naive but not a total dunce Longfellow Deeds comes off as a weirdo to the city dwellers who are fascinated by his behaviour and start mocking him. Mr Deeds Goes to Town certainly highlights the divide between city slickers and small-town folk; this is particularly evident in the scene in which Deeds, himself a poet meets a group of distinguished poets in the restaurant and is appalled by their snobbery and elitism to the point that he beats them up.  Likewise, the film also features Charles Lane as a lawyer, the inspiration for The Simpsons’ blue haired lawyer.

In an example of the darker side of Capra’s films, Mr Deeds Goes to Town is a cynical look at society and the media as a whole (“Why do people seem to get pleasure out of hurting each other, why don’t they try helping each other once in a while?”). Multiple people are out to snag Deed’s fortune while the media is out constantly pursuing him due to his odd but ultimately harmless behaviour; the media manipulating how a person is seen by the public. Mr Deeds is a man who became famous for inheriting a fortune, in other words, he’s famous for being famous and the newspapers appear to have nothing better to do than report on his escapades such as feeding donuts to a horse; relevant to today’s celebrity culture.

With the scene in the park in which Babe plays a set of improvised drums and Deeds sings humoresque. Capra didn’t want to include it as he thought it was too sappy but Jean Arthur insisted it remain. Capra of all people thought it was too sappy?!  But ah Capra sentiment, it never fails to move me.

The sanity hearing at the end of the film is pure movie fantasy; I doubt in real life someone could be classified insane on such so-called evidence. In a demonstration of Cooper’s ability as one of the best actors when it comes to giving a rousing speech or monologue, he talks about the silly quirks we all have. Although the likes of “o” filling or knuckle cracking seems rather trivial, I’m always left with the impression that the movie is making a statement on society’s treatment of those who don’t fully “fit in” or adhere to conformity and asks the question; who is truly “normal”?

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Anchors Aweigh (1945)

Join the Navy!

Anchors Aweigh is the first film of the Frank Sinatra-Gene Kelly trilogy, tapping into classic Hollywood musicals odd fascination with sailors. It wouldn’t be the last time Kelly or Sinatra would play a sailor and what an underrated comedic duo they are. Gene Kelly is loveably egocentric, constantly lying about his exploits with dames and rubbing the fact that he got leave in his comrades’ faces so much that he sings a musical number about it; the interactions he shares with Sinatra are priceless. Reportedly Kelly was known in real life for being a control freak and getting his own way, so I wonder how much of his personality is reflective in his performance. Frank Sinatra is largely the opposite of Kelly, girl shy and completely gawky, a stark contrast to what he later became; he sure toughened up over time.

Anchors Aweigh can around the beginning of new era of film musicals, at a time when the genre became almost exclusively one filmed in colour and when the distinctive style of the MGM musical took off, separating them from the likes of the Astaire & Rodgers musicals of the past. Unlike Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly was off the people, usually playing commoners on screen. Fred Astaire did play a sailor in Follow the Fleet but no doubt Gene Kelly suits it better.

Perhaps the film’s best highlight is Gene Kelly dancing with Jerry of Tom & Jerry fame. It might not be as technically advanced or as smoothly animated as later live-action/animation hybrids but it’s one of the most awe-inspiring. The animators even make note to include Jerry’s reflection in the floor. The studio originally wanted Disney to allow them use of Mickey Mouse for the number, which seems very hard to believe. The inclusion of some very Disney looking animated creatures, including two which look suspiciously like Bambi and Thumper, suggests the studio was serious about including Mickey.

The other unique aspect of Anchors Aweigh is the documentary-like look at MGM studios in 1945 during one portion in the film. A peak at the dream factory itself, with people in costume, props everywhere and what look like studio workers in suits going about their business. It’s unabashed self-promotion but hey, it’s one entertaining commercial. This use of on-location filming including the scenes as the Hollywood Bowl show shades of what was come several years later in On the Town. I do wish they though could have shown some more of 1945 Hollywood but the sets present in Anchors Aweigh are something to marvel at. Even with the odd background which is clearly two painted backdrops placed side by side with a dividing line clearly visible, the sets create a cartoon-like Technicolor world that you wish real life could look like; just look at that set of the Spanish part of town; such artificial beauty.

The only downside to Anchors Aweigh which prevents it from being a greater film is the runtime and much of this is largely due to the amount of which is spent in the house of Kathryn Grayson’s character; I really started to get sick of the sight of it, especially since the movie takes place in Hollywood and there are places so much more interesting they could be. The characters keep returning to the house several times throughout the movie, which wouldn’t be such a problem if it wasn’t for the large chunk of time that was spent there when they first arrived at it; by far the most frustrating aspect of the film. Thankfully the good outweighs the bad and the good isn’t just good, it’s amazingly good. There’s really no dud musical number present, they’re all so very, very beautiful.