Title: Meet John Doe
Release Date: May 3, 1941
Director: Frank Capra
Production Company: Frank Capra Productions
Columnist Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) is laid off from her job but submits one last column in the form of a fake letter from John Doe, who rails against the ills of society and threatens to commit public suicide on Christmas Eve. The column causes a sensation, and Ann is rehired to write more John Doe columns. A homeless former bush league pitcher, Long John Willoughby (Gary Cooper) is recruited to play “John Doe.”
Traveling the country delivering Ann’s speeches, John inspires a John Doe movement where people form clubs and get to know and help out their neighbors. Millionaire newspaper publisher D. B. Norton (Edward Arnold) funds the John Doe movement with the ulterior motive of using John to convert the third-party Presidential campaign. Norton believes the country needs an authoritarian leader, and when John attempts to expose the plot at a rally, Norton orders the police to go into the crowd and incite a riot against John Doe. (Watching this movie during the same week when peaceful protests across the country were targeted by police violence, made this scene feel on point).
The movie is typical of Frank Capra common-man stories, although it feels a bit uneven compared to his more famous works. Stanwyck and Cooper are great in their roles although the romance between them is never developed all too well. The movie falls apart in the final scene where the melodrama is laid on thick, and Stanwyck rushes through dialogue as if she knew it was cheezy and out-of-character, especially the awkward reference to Jesus Christ. I read that several endings were filmed for this movie, but I don’t think that they picked the right one.