30 Aug Meet John Doe
Written by a discharged journalist as a publicity stunt, and as a parting shot at the paper’s new editor, the premise of the letter unexpectedly fires the imagination of the Bulletin’s readers and the wider American public. Its real author, Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) who has fabricated the letter in her final column, is rehired, and now needs to find someone to play the part of the fictional “John Doe.” Gary Cooper is perfectly cast as Long John Willoughby, an injured and penniless former baseball pitcher lured into impersonating “John Doe” with the promise of medical treatment. In what would have undoubtedly been an Oscar winning performance, were it not for his own success that same year in Howard Hawk’s “Sergeant York,” Cooper excels himself here as Willoughby’s initial indifference to his undertaking turns to genuine concern at his role. But, as he becomes an increasingly culpable pawn in an ever more treacherous game, just how can “John Doe” redeem himself? The film explores a recurring notion in Capra’s work that of the universal everyman exploited by a corrupt and powerful establishment, the film’s reflections on corporate control of both the media, and of ordinary people’s lives is still a resonant social commentary as ever.