Small town vs. the big city
28 May 2012
To me, the main theme of this film seems not so much to be upper class vs. lower class, of rich vs. poor, but of the town vs. the city, of rural values vs. urban values. This is reflected in the very title; "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" and, as he says, finds a jungle of magnificent buildings filled with people lacking any real nobility. This is a time honored theme in films of the 1920s and 30s, seen anywhere from silent films like "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" (1927), to Warner Bros pre-codes like "Big City Blues" (1932) and Will Rogers vehicles like "State Fair" (1933).

Gary Cooper is often cast as an archetype. Here, he is the archetypal small town American who is filled with common sense, basic decency and a sense of fair play. He goes to the city and is taken advantaged of and mocked by jaded urbanites. His values seem so completely foreign to them that they eventually question his sanity and put him on trial.

Gary Cooper is great; the scene where Cooper discovers Arthur's deception is some of his best acting, completely naturalistic and real. Jean Arthur is amazing as well; the scene on the park bench with Cooper where she realizes Deeds has a lot in common with her own father and small town background is brilliantly played.

Unlike city folk, Deeds will help a neighbor in need. Reflecting his small town values, his plan for Depression relief is to create jobs in agriculture, giving people the chance to be farmers. Deeds would have been better off trying to create industrial jobs. Unfortunately, there wasn't any way for people with small farms operating individually to make much money then or now; agriculture in America has been in a rut since the 1920s. Like many Capra films, "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" is a movie that looks backwards, not forward, expressing nostalgia for an America filled with small towns and prosperous farmers, an America that was gone forever in 1936 thanks to the influence of technology.
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