Most people know about Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life”, but not many know about another holiday related film of Capra’s. That film is “Meet John Doe”, and it plays at the Historic Howell Theater this month.
The 1941 film stars Barbara Stanwyck as reporter Ann Mitchell. Disgruntled at being laid off from her job at her newspaper, she writes one last piece to spite her boss. That piece is a letter from a fictional unemployed “John Doe” who threatens to commit suicide on Christmas Eve in protest of the problems of the world. When the letter causes a sensation among readers, and the paper’s rival suspects a fraud and conducts an investigation, Editor Henry Connell (James Gleason) is persuaded to rehire Mitchell, who concocts a scheme to boost her paper’s circulation by exploiting the fictional John Doe.
After meeting a number of derelicts who claim they wrote the John Doe letter, Mitchell and Connell select John Willoughby (Gary Cooper), an ex-baseball player in need of money to repair his injured arm to play the role of John Doe. Mitchell starts to pen a series of articles in Doe’s name, elaborating on the original letter’s ideas of society’s disregard for people in need. The paper’s publisher, D. B. Norton (Edward Arnold) pays Mitchell to write a series of radio speeches for Willoughby. After the first speech, Willoughby tries to run away, but is quickly recognized at a diner. He is then brought to City Hall and met by Bert Hanson (Regis Toomey), who explains how he was inspired by Doe’s words to start a “John Doe club” with his neighbors.
The John Doe phenomenon takes off quickly, with the simple slogan “Be a better neighbor”. But Norton has a dark political agenda planned for Willoughby…
The film also stars Walter Brennan, Spring Byington and Gene Lockhart.
“Meet John Doe” plays December 1, 2, 15 and 16 at the Historic Howell Theater. Show times and tickets are available at the theater’s website.