Sunday, July 3, 2016

Meet John Doe

Year 8, Day 185 - 7/3/16 - Movie #2,386

BEFORE: It's a bit of a tenuous connection, but an actor named Forrester Harvey carries over from "Mrs. Miniver", where he had an uncredited role as "Mr. Huggins".  Hey, if it was uncredited, how do we know his character was named Mr. Huggins?  Anyway, thank God for the IMDB, which is telling me that Mr. Harvey appears in tonight's film, also uncredited, in the role of "Bum".  Hey, whatever you've got to do to keep that SAG card, I always say.

THE PLOT:  A man needing money agrees to impersonate a nonexistent person who said he'd be committing suicide as a protest, and a political movement begins.

AFTER: Honestly, I was a little unsure about dropping this one in here, even though it provides me the link I need to get to tomorrow's film, because I didn't see the connection to the holiday weekend at first.  But the climax of the film takes place at a political convention, and we've got two of those coming up this month, so the timing turned out to be perfect.  Now, this convention turns out to be for a third-party candidate, so there's not really a direct connection to this election year's news, but the people who attend this convention are regular Americans who are dissatisfied with the direction that the country's going in, and that couldn't be more on point. 

However, it's not xenophobia or racial divisiveness or scandals that drive people to this third-party convention, it's a belief, stirred by the speeches of Mr. John Doe, that lead people to believe that something of the American spirit has been lost, people (in 1940-41, that is) have stopped looking out for each other, have put up literal and figurative fences between them and their neighbors, and that it's high time for everyone to start helping each other again, whether it's with offers of employment, food for the hungry, or just a kind word or a smile.  

To this end, people start forming "John Doe clubs" in their communities, and Mr. Doe goes on tour across the country to visit these clubs and encourage them to keep up the good work.  And Ann Mitchell, the newspaper reporter who came up with the concept, keeps writing folksy speeches for Doe, based on the writings of her late father to keep inspiring people.  

There's just one slight problem - John Doe's not real.  His very existence came from an op-ed piece that Ms. Mitchell wrote after being laid off, in a desperate attempt to play on the public's sympathy and maybe get her job back.  Once she does, the newspaper has to hire someone to play John Doe, or else the rival newspaper will expose their articles as phony.  And there's no shortage of out-of-work men willing to play the part, but the trick comes in picking a clean-cut, attractive needy man who will play the part, read his speeches unrehearsed, and not spill the beans.  

The key thing that makes this work, of course, is the contrivance that John Willoughby, aka John Doe, prefers to read his speeches cold, and not look at them in advance.  Umm, who does this?  What public speaker in his right mind wouldn't want to rehearse an important speech?  I'm not buying the fact that this makes his speeches sound better, it's a plot device that didn't work for me, because it's only there to keep him from learning the content of the convention speech - if he knew it, he'd never agree to read it, in other words.  

As I said, we're coming up on the real 2016 convention season (and for once, I don't mean a comic convention...) and no keynote speaker worth his (or her) salt would go into such a thing unrehearsed.  That being said, we honestly don't know exactly what's going to happen at this year's Republi-Con or Democrat-Con (do they even call them that?).  We've got one party who can't STAND their nominee, which could lead to some kind of shake-up or brokered convention, and we've got another party that's also fractured, perhaps not as much, but with a 2nd-place finisher who hung on until the bitter end, so while that may not affect the outcome, that party is also somewhat fragmented.

This mistake that most citizens make is thinking that their vote makes any difference at this point - no one in either party voted in the primary for a candidate, they were voting for delegates who agreed to go to Cleveland (so right away, their judgement is suspect...) or Philadelphia to cast a vote.  But there is NOTHING that guarantees those delegates will vote the way they promised to - if enough of them change their minds, literally anything could happen.  Probably there won't be any surprises, but it would be interesting if there were.

And people say, "Oh, we've got to get more people to come out and vote..." No, I disagree, we need to get more SMART people to come out and vote - the dumb people should stay home.  Think about a person of average intelligence, and then remind yourself that HALF of the people in this country are dumber than that.  And you can't ask the dumb people to educate themselves on the issues, either, because they're dumb - how would they know if they're doing it right?  They'd be just as likely to listen to other dumb people telling them how to vote, and then where would we be?  We can only hope that the majority of the dumb people show up on the wrong day, or can't figure out how to get to the polling places, or just plain forget to vote.  Honestly, I believe that's our only chance. 

Tonight's connection to the Christmas classic "It's a Wonderful Life" is the director, Frank Capra.  And when you think about that famous film with regards to politics, it's really about capitalism (Mr. Potter's bank) vs. socialism (George Bailey's building & loan).  Ah, you never thought about it that way, did you?  "Why, your money's in HIS house, and his money's in HER house..."  That's the socialist collective, right there in Bedford Falls!  And when George is in financial trouble, who comes to his aid?  The whole damn town, that's who.  And that puts a socialist spin on tonight's film, too, people giving jobs to their needy neighbors, hiring them to water their lawns or walk their dogs.  Really?  Socialist concepts in 1941 America?  Shouldn't we let the free market determine who deserves a job, and let the needy fend for themselves?  Isn't that the American way?

Also starring Gary Cooper (last seen in "Love in the Afternoon"), Barbara Stanwyck (last seen in "Stella Dallas"), Edward Arnold (last seen in "Duck Soup"), Walter Brennan (last seen in "Support Your Local Sheriff!"), Spring Byington, James Gleason, Gene Lockhart (last seen in "The Inspector General"), Rod La Rocque, Irving Bacon, Regis Toomey, J. Farrell MacDonald, with cameos from Sterling Holloway (last heard in "The AristoCats"), Harry Davenport (last seen in "The Thin Man Goes Home"), Selmer Jackson, Ann Doran.

RATING: 5 out of 10 helots

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