Mr. Deeds Goes To Town

Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1939)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, George Bancroft, Lionel Stander
Extras: Commentary track, Featurette, Vintage advertising, Production Notes

What would happen if a small-town idealist would suddenly become heir to a huge amount of money? Would he be corrupted by the wealth? Would he be able to hold it together? Would he fall victim to the sharks swimming in the big city? Would he be able to maintain his ideals and honesty? All these questions, and a few more, are raised and answered in Columbia TriStar Home Video’s latest release, "Mr. Deeds Goes To Town," a movie by Frank Capra that is to this day hailed as one of his best pictures ever.

Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper), a small town idealist unexpectedly inherits the amount of $20 million dollars as the sole heir from an uncle he hardly even remembers, he appears to hardly grasp the fact that his life is about to change. "I wonder why he left me all that money, I don’t need it," he mutters thoughtfully while playing his tuba seemingly unimpressed. Only a few hours later he is on his way to New York to collect his inheritance and is quickly pulled into a maelstrom of events he is not very familiar with.

As the heir to the fortune of his financier uncle who died in a car accident, many vultures appear trying to financially strip the inexperienced man and to rip him off. His natural instincts and common sense however tell him to be careful, a trait the gold diggers had not anticipated. Quickly Mr. Deeds is having a tight grip on his fortune and examines every expense very carefully, trying to learn the mechanics of riches, and in the course of it, finding out more and more that he’s the wrong guy. When newspapers print shameless insults and the only true friend he thought he had betrays him, Mr. Deeds decides to give away his entire fortune to those in need, because it is too much trouble to handle. His only wish is to help the poor and to return home to Mandrake Falls, where he belongs, where trust is not only a five-letter word, and where playing the tuba in a merry band is more important than riches. But there are powerful people who would hate to see all that money "wasted" on the poor, and soon a bitter struggle ensues.

Much of the films likeability comes from its protagonist, masterfully played by Gary Cooper. It was an unusual pick to cast Cooper in a humorous part, but it was definitely worth the try. He comes across as simple, yet never stupid. Through his bright eyes he carries every emotion on his sleeves, which makes the stark contrast of his greedy environment even more powerful. The dialogues, although funny, always contain a certain common sense truth that we all can’t deny. While going through the events of the story, seemingly blue-eyed, Longfellow Deeds learns much about his fellow men, while the viewer learns much about the beauty and simplicity of a content life, far removed from the frenzy and eccentricities of an overly material modern day society. The social commentary is strong in the film’s context and in the end, I suppose every viewer wishes he could have as content a life as Longfellow Deeds. A lifestyle that seems even more unattainable today than it was back in 1939, I am sure and as a result is even more attractive.

"Mr. Deeds Goes To Town" is part of Columbia TriStar Home Video’s Classics Collection and definitely an enrichment to any DVD collection. The film is presented in its original <$PS,fullframe> aspect ratio in a digitally restored transfer. The print has some registration problems, resulting in a slight jitter on occasion, and many of the film’s splices seem to be damaged as well, causing visible jumps when certain cuts occur. Although some of those signs of age and damage are still evident in the source print, the film is great looking on this DVD. It has a perfect balance of contrast that creates a very pleasing picture. The blacks are deep and solid and the film’s highlights are pronounced but never over-emphasized. The gradient of grays in-between is balanced and restores a vivid image that is lively and natural looking despite its lack of colors. The compression of the material for the DVD has also been meticulously done, adding vastly to the appeal of this DVD. As with so many of Columbia’s recent classic releases, you will be surprised at the level of quality that can be achieved out of this rather old movies given the right treatment. There are no compression artifacts visible in the transfer and the level of detail found on this presentation is never diminished by the digital compression. You will be surprised how well this movies has held up.

The disc contains a monaural audio track in <$DD,Dolby Digital>, as well as an English language track and is supported by English and Spanish language subtitles, as well as a series of additional languages. The audio has been nicely restored as well for this release, without any notable problems. It is surprising how low the noise floor is on this audio track and how well the overall frequency response is maintained. Although somewhat limited in the lower end, the audio track is of very good quality without obvious distortion and a good general transparency.

The disc also contains a <$commentary,commentary track> by Frank Capra Jr., son of the director, who tells many stories surrounding the film, how it came together, how his father assembled material for the picture and how he was working in general. Although not overly technical, the <$commentary,commentary track> is informative and gives some great insight into the person behind the camera – even more maybe, as if he did the commentary himself.

One can only image how much money $20 million back in 1939 must have been worth, considering that is still an awful lot of money by today’s standards. However, the subject matter about the temptations of money are still as current today as they were back then, as is the social commentary found in the film. "The Hudsucker Proxy," a movie that takes a somewhat similar setup to develop its story proves that most of the elements found in "Mr. Deeds Goes To Town" still work for today’s movie going audiences without further adaptation.

I had a great time with the movie and this staggering DVD makes the movie appear even more glorious. Sometimes, nothing beats the nostalgia conjured up by some of these classic movies by the way they portray their characters and stories, and if you are in for a great and humorous piece of nostalgia, check out "Mr. Deeds Goes To Town."