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Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Frank Capra
Produced by Frank Capra
Written by Clarence Budington Kelland (story)
Robert Riskin (screenplay)
Starring Gary Cooper
Jean Arthur
Cinematography Joseph Walker
Editing by Gene Havlick
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) April 16, 1936 (1936-04-16)
Running time 115 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is a 1936 American comedy film directed by Frank Capra, based on the story Opera Hat by Clarence Budington Kelland that appeared in serial form in the Saturday Evening Post.[1] It stars Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur in her first featured role. The screenplay was written by Kelland and Robert Riskin in his fifth collaboration with Capra.[2]



Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur

In the middle of the Great Depression, Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper), co-owner of a tallow works, part-time greeting card poet and tuba-playing inhabitant of the hamlet of Mandrake Falls, Vermont, inherits the enormous fortune of 20 million dollars from his late uncle, Martin Semple. His uncle's scheming attorney, John Cedar (Douglass Dumbrille), locates Deeds and takes him to New York City.

Cedar gives his cynical troubleshooter, ex-newspaperman Cornelius Cobb (Lionel Stander), the task of keeping reporters away from the heir. He is outfoxed, however, by star reporter Louise "Babe" Bennett (Jean Arthur), who appeals to Deeds' romantic fantasy of rescuing a damsel in distress by masquerading as a poor worker named Mary Dawson. She pretends to faint from exhaustion after "walking all day to find a job" and worms her way into his confidence. She proceeds to write a series of enormously popular articles mocking Longfellow's hick ways and odd behavior, naming him the "Cinderella Man". Meanwhile, Cedar tries to get Deeds' power of attorney in order to keep his financial misdeeds secret.

Deeds, however, proves to be a shrewd judge of character, easily fending off Cedar and other greedy opportunists. He wins Cobb's wholehearted respect and eventually Babe's love. However, when Cobb finds out Bennett's true identity, Deeds is left heartbroken.

Just as he is ready to return to Mandrake Falls in disgust, a dispossessed farmer (John Wray) breaks into his mansion and threatens him with a gun. He expresses his scorn for the seemingly heartless, ultra rich man, who won't lift a finger to help the multitudes of desperate poor. The intruder then comes to his senses, but Deeds realizes what he can do with his troublesome fortune: he decides to provide fully equipped 10-acre (40,000 m2) farms free to thousands of homeless families if they will work the land for several years.

Alarmed at the prospect of losing control of the fortune, Cedar joins forces with Deeds' only other relative and his grasping, domineering wife in seeking to have Deeds declared mentally incompetent. This, along with Babe's betrayal, finally breaks his spirit and he sinks into a deep depression.

During his sanity hearing, things look bleak for Deeds, especially since he initially refuses to defend himself. Cedar even gets Deeds's Mandrake Falls tenants, eccentric elderly sisters Jane and Amy Faulkner (Margaret Seddon and Margaret McWade), to testify that Deeds is "pixilated." That charge falls apart when the two spinsters admit that everyone in town, except themselves, suffers from the same affliction. When Babe convinces Deeds that she truly loves him, he systematically punches holes in Cedar's case (before punching Cedar in the face) and the judge declares him to be "the sanest man who ever walked into this courtroom".

Jean Arthur as Louise "Babe" Bennett


As appearing in screen credits (main roles identified)[3]

Actor Role
Gary Cooper Longfellow Deeds/Cinderella Man
Jean Arthur Louise "Babe" Bennett/Mary Dawson
George Bancroft MacWade aka "Mac"
Lionel Stander Cornelius Cobb
Douglass Dumbrille John Cedar
Raymond Walburn Walter
H.B. Warner Judge May
Ruth Donnelly Mabel Dawson
Walter Catlett Morrow


Originally Frank Capra was going to make Lost Horizon after Broadway Bill (1934) but lead actor Ronald Colman couldn't get out of his other filming commitments, so production planning changed to 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.[4] 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.[5] Arthur was not the first choice for the role but Carole Lombard, the original female lead, "ankled" the film just three days before principal photography, in favor of a starring role in My Man Godfrey.[6] The first scenes shot on the Fox Studios' New England street "lot" were in place before Capra "discovered" his heroine in a rush screening. [5] In any case, the opening sequences had to be reshot anyway when Capra decided against the "broad" comedy approach that had originally been written. [6]

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 $38,936.00 more than the Columbia budget for a total of $806,774.00.[7]Throughout the preproduction 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 at the Columbia Pictures publicity department. [8]


The film was generally treated as likeable fare by critics and audiences alike. Noted reviewer Graham Greene was effusive that this was Capra's finest film to date, describing Capra's treatment as "a kinship with his audience, a sense of common life, a morality..." [9] Variety noted "a sometimes too thin structure [that] the players and director Frank Capra have contrived to convert (...) into fairly sturdy substance."[10]

This was the first Capra film to be released separately to exhibitors and not "bundled" with other Columbia features.[11] On paper, it was his biggest hit, easily surpassing It Happened One Night.[11]

American Film Institute recognition


Capra won his second Academy Award for Directing in 1936 for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, while Cooper received the first of his five nominations for Best Actor. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Screenplay (Robert Riskin), and Best Sound Recording (John P. Livadary).

At the end of the year, the New York Film Critics and the National Board of Review named "Mr. Deeds" the "Best Picture of 1936."[12]


A radio adaptation of the film was originally broadcast on February 1, 1937 on Lux Radio Theater. In that broadcast, Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur and Lionel Stander reprised their roles from the 1936 film. [13]

A short-lived ABC television series of the same name ran from 1969 to 1970, starring Monte Markham as Longfellow Deeds. It was also remade as Mr. Deeds in 2002, starring Adam Sandler and Winona Ryder.

A mistaken belief is that a sequel called Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington was written and eventually became Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Although the latter has some similarities to Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, including starring Jean Arthur and being directed by Capra, its 1939 screenplay was actually based on an out-of-print novel, The Gentleman from Montana and was an entirely separate project.[14]

Popular culture

The bucolic Vermont town of Mandrake Falls, home of Longfellow Deeds, is now considered an archetype of small town America with Kelland creating a type of "cracker-barrel" view of rural values contrasted with that of sophisticated "city folk".[15][16] 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;[17] although its use in the screenplay may not be an accurate interpretation.[18] The lyrics to the 1977 Rush song "Cinderella Man" on the A Farewell to Kings album are based on the story of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.


  1. ^ Poague 1975, p. 17.
  2. ^ McBride 1992, p. 332.
  3. ^ "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) full credits." IMDB. Retrieved: October 18, 2009.
  4. ^ McBride 1992, p. 342.
  5. ^ a b Capra 1971, p. 184.
  6. ^ a b Scherle and Levy 1977, p. 137.
  7. ^ McBride 1992, p. 346. Note: Close aides claimed that Capra's claims of being thrifty and conscientious were over-blown. They contended that all of his films came in over budget.
  8. ^ McBride 1992, p. 328.
  9. ^ Greene, Graham. "Mr. Deeds." The Spectator, 28 August 1936.
  10. ^ " Review: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town." Variety, January 1, 1936. Retrieved: February 21, 2008.
  11. ^ a b McBride 1992, p. 348.
  12. ^ McBride 1992, p. 349.
  13. ^ Haendiges, Jerry. "Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs - Lux Radio Theater." Retrieved: October 18, 2009.
  14. ^ Capra 1971, p. 254.
  15. ^ McBride 1992, p. 333.
  16. ^ Levy, Emanuel. "Political Ideology in Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town." Retrieved: February 26, 2008.
  17. ^ Eckstorm, Fannie Hardy. "Pixilated, a Marblehead Word", American Speech Vol. 16, no. 1, February 1941, pp. 78–80.
  18. ^ A correspondent to Notes and Queries in 1937 objected to the screenplay's use of the word to mean "crazy", saying instead that "A 'pixilated' man is one whose whimseys [sic] are not understood by practical-minded people." Quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. (1989), s.v. "Pixilated".
  • Capra, Frank. Frank Capra, The Name Above the Title: An Autobiography. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1971. ISBN 0-30680-771-8.
  • McBride, Joseph. Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success. New York: Touchstone Books, 1992. ISBN 0-671-79788-3.
  • Michael, Paul, ed. The Great Movie Book: A Comprehensive Illustrated Reference Guide to the Best-loved Films of the Sound Era. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1980. ISBN 0-13-363663-1.
  • Poague, Leland. The Cinema of Frank Capra: An Approach to Film Comedy. London: A.S Barnes and Company Ltd., 1975. ISBN 0-498-01506-8.
  • Scherle, Victor and William Levy. The Films of Frank Capra. Secaucus, New Jersey: The Citadel Press, 1977. ISBN 0-8065-0430-7.

External links


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