Cast: Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, George Bancroft
Oscar Wins: Best Director (Frank Capra)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Gary Coper), Best Writing, Screenplay (Robert Riskin), Best Sound, Recording (John P. Livadary)
SUMMARY: When multi-millionaire Martin Semple dies without an heir, an intense search begins for his closest relative. Ultimately, Semple’s lawyer John Cedar unearths and tracks down the heir, a nephew named Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper). Deeds is an unassuming man who lives in Mandrake Falls, Vermont, where he owns a tallow factory, writes poems for greeting cards, and plays the tuba in the town band. Cedar is thrilled: he has long been embezzling money from Semple, and believes that Deeds is so simple-minded that he will be able to continue this practice. Cedar whisks Deeds off to New York City, and assigns his right-hand man, “Corny” Cobb, to keep the paparazzi away from Deeds. Unfortunately, one of these reporters manages to get past Cobb. Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur) pretends to be a destitute, exhausted young woman as she limps past Deeds’ new house one evening, just as he comes outside. Deeds has long had a fantasy of rescuing a “damsel in distress”, and thus sees Bennett as the answer to his prayers. The two go out on the town together, which both enjoy; however, the next day a mocking article appears in the newspaper, giving Deeds the name of “Cinderella Man”. Quite a few people immediately try to take advantage of Deeds’ perceived ignorance, but he quickly prove to be sharper than expected. When the opera company, which has voted him chairman, asks him to cover their debt, he instead insists that the company change their ways in order to make a profit. He also insists on seeing the books of his inherited attorney, Cedar, and refuses to hand over his power of attorney. These shrewd decisions earn him the respect of Cobb, and the ire of Cedar. Deeds also continues to romance Bennett, who completely falls for him. However, Cobb has not forgotten his job, and soon learns of Bennett’s real identity (and occupation). When he tells Deeds, the man is crushed, and decides to give up the fortune and return to Mandrake Falls.
Before Deeds can leave town, though, a poor farmer bursts into his house and berates him for throwing away money, while others are losing everything they have. This gives Deeds an idea: instead of giving up his fortune, he will give it away to deserving farmers. Staying in New York City, he quickly sets up a program that will give 10-acre farms to worthy families, provided that they work the land for three years. Cedar, who is already in hot water with his partners for failing to secure power of attorney, is nearly apoplectic at the news. He finds Semple’s only other living relatives and persuades them to bring suit against Deeds, claiming that he is mentally incompetent. This proves to be the final blow to Deeds, who becomes so depressed that he stops speaking, and refuses to hire a lawyer to defend himself at his sanity hearing. At the hearing, things do not start well for Deeds, in part because of his refusal to speak, and in part because of Cedar’s presentation against him. Cedar uses some of Deeds’ more unusual actions, several of them occurring when he was drunk, to suggest that Deeds is insane, and should not be given access to the fortune. The nail in the coffin comes in the form of two elderly sisters from Mandrake Falls, who insist that Deeds is “pixilated” (crazy), and always has been. Bennett, who is in the courtroom, begs the judge for permission to speak, and begins attesting to Deed’s sanity. When she also confesses to loving him, Deeds finally breaks his silence. He begins explaining his actions to the judge and the courtroom, and thoroughly discredits the sisters by getting them to admit that they think everybody is pixilated, except for themselves. When Cedar tries to confront him, Deeds punches him in the nose. Despite this, the judge declares him to be sane, and he triumphantly leaves the courtroom with Bennett.
MY TAKE: This movie was remade by Adam Sandler in the 2000s, and though I’m not a big Adam Sandler fan, that film did stay pretty close to the original plot. The twist ending is a little different, as is the fact that the original Deeds gives away farms (it was set in the Depression, which the Sandler version was not), but the rest is fairly faithful. Consequently, I kind of knew what was going to happen. Personally, I thought Deeds’ attitudes toward big-city life, and the people who live it, were pretty refreshing, but it did make him look a little insane when presented as a group. It made the court hearing a little nerve-wracking. I was puzzled at first, when the ladies said that Deeds was “pixilated”, because of course I heard “pixelated”. Thankfully, this was explained to be like pixies, as in nutty, because I was pretty sure that there weren’t such things as pixels at that time. It might be set quite a few decades ago, but the themes are still relevant, and Deeds’ attitude admirable and refreshing. Not earth-shaking (maybe because I saw the remake first), but enjoyable.