Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Bulltin* (for Bulletin*)

Like yesterday's blog topic, People Will Talk, another "socially conscious" film I saw recently contains its own share of cinematic bon mots. Frank Capra's Meet John Doe opens with a construction worker chiseling the letters off the stone edifice of the town newspaper building ("The Bulletin—A free press means a free people") and replacing them with the spruced-up motto: "The New Bulletin—a streamlined newspaper for a streamlined era." (Sounds familiar, doesn't it?) Barbara Stanwyck plays Ann Mitchell, a reporter with an eye for gold and a heart of same, who contrives to save her job at the downsizing Bulletin by cooking up an appealingly desperate "Everyman" in order to goose the paper's circulation. She decides to write a fictional letter to the editor from an out-of-work "John Doe" who threatens to commit suicide on Christmas Eve. Her plan seems to work (the readers are intrigued), so she decides to milk it some more by finding an actual person to play the part. When she gets a gander at tall drink of water Gary Cooper ("Long John Willoughby," a former baseball player and now a "bum"), the search is over and the plot thickens. In one notable scene, Cooper gives what's got to be the best virtual spanking in all of classic movie history by managing to "whack" Stanwyck repeatedly without ever laying a hand on her. (It's just a dream.) This film is sort of half comedy, half drama, half satire. And it's probably not giving too much away to say that it ends with Miss Mitchell, her man, and The People all vowing to live freely and happily ever after. (Capra was so dissatisfied with the ending, however, that four different ones were test-screened before an audience and the film was actually altered post-release after he received an especially urgent letter from a fan.) News bulletin: there were five examples of this typo uncovered in OhioLINK today, and 140 in WorldCat.

(Walter Brennan, Gary Cooper, Irving Bacon, Barbara Stanwyck, and James Gleason in Meet John Doe, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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