Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and Mr. Deeds (2002)

In 1935, Clarence Budington Kelland wrote a short story in serial form for The American Magazine entitled “Opera Hat.”  This became the inspiration for the movie Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, released the following year.  The movie eventually gave rise to a television series from 1969 to 1970, and to a remake in 2002 under the name Mr. Deeds.

“Opera Hat”

In the first installment of “Opera Hat,” we are introduced to Longfellow Deeds, so named because his mother loved poetry.  When he grew up, he became a poet himself, writing verse for greeting cards, from which he made a fair amount of money, although he had additional income from a business inherited from his father.  He also learned to play the tuba, for that instrument was inherited from his grandfather, and thus played the tuba whenever a brass band was organized in Mandrake Falls, where he resided.

One day he is visited by a lawyer, one Lathrop Cedar, informing him that his uncle, Mr. Semple has died.  As Deeds is the sole living relative, he is the heir to Mr. Semple’s estate, making Deeds a millionaire many times over.  Cedar says, though without explanation, that it will be necessary for Deeds to move to New York, taking up residence in a mansion on Fifth Avenue.

It is further brought to Deeds’ attention that Mr. Semple was the president and major stockholder of the Continental Opera Company, and Deeds quite naturally is asked by the Board of Directors to continue in his place, especially since they expect him to continue subsidizing the opera, which always loses money.  This doesn’t make sense to Deeds.  Even today, the common man wonders why he must pay taxes to fund the National Endowment for the Arts, which supports the kind of art he is not interested in, which includes opera, of course.  But no matter how many times there has been a populist backlash against such funding, the elite always manage to triumph in the end.  What the common man fails to understand is that these money-losing art forms confer a certain amount of dignity and prestige on him through the taxes he pays in their support, even while he seeks out entertainment by going to the movies or listening to country-western music.

Having arrived in New York, Deeds soon finds that while people belittle him for his greeting-card poetry, which has supported him comfortably in Mandrake Falls, respectable poems never make any money for the poets that compose them.  It is further brought to Deeds’ attention that it is not the authors, poets, singers, and dancers that matter, for they are not “society,” and a man in Deeds’ position should not fraternize with them, a sin of which he has already been guilty three times over by that point in the story.  These artists, he is informed, are just a means to an end, the end being the way they allow the upper class to display their superiority, such as by having a box in the opera house with which to impress their acquaintances.

In the end, Deeds decides to turn the Opera Company into a money-making business by having radio broadcasts of the operas, during which there will be commercials to sell soap.  During the thirty-eight weeks when operas are not being performed, the opera house will hold amateur hours in which people will compete to be the bass, tenor, alto, and soprano in the next season’s operas.  Also during this period, there will be “tabloid opera.”  As Deeds points out, the biggest problem with opera is that “it’s too long between tunes.”  His plan is to get rid of all that in-between stuff, keeping only the good parts, in which case each opera can be performed in half an hour.  That way, people won’t get bored.

Complicating matters, however, is the fact that he is threatened by a lawsuit from a woman claiming to be Mr. Semple’s common-law wife.  The woman is a ballerina, who claims to have had a daughter by Mr. Semple.  And there is evidence in the form of letters where the word “wife” is used several times, although Deeds is suspicious since they are all typewritten.  He wonders why men put such incriminating information in letters.  While pondering the matter, it occurs to Deeds that men could avoid being compromised in this manner if they used the poetry in greeting cards to express their affection.  He gets to work composing poems that speak of love, but in an ambiguous way, leaving the man a loophole in case he is sued for breach of promise.

The matter is complicated further when this ballerina is murdered.  Deeds is determined to solve this mystery.  In the end, it turns out that the ballerina was already secretly married to a man she was ashamed of.  In contempt of her husband, she cuckolded him on a regular basis, for which reason he killed her.  Not only did this demolish the lawsuit brought by her as Semple’s supposed common-law wife, but Deeds discovers his secretary, Mr. Bengold, had used Semple’s typewriter to compose those letters, and he is dismissed.

Along the way, Deeds had become acquainted with Simonetta Petersen, secretary of Madame Pomponi, a great soprano of the opera.  He asks Simonetta to go to the opera with him, but when he arrives to pick her up, she asks him why he isn’t wearing an opera hat.  He answers that it would be a symbol for a new way of life, which he is not ready to embrace, since the matter with the common-law wife was still pending, and he might end up back in Mandrake Falls.  After solving the murder, he decides he wants to marry Simonetta, but he keeps fumbling at the proposal, so she finally just asks him to marry her.  After an appropriate amount of kissing, he puts on his opera hat.

Before turning to the movie, which should be evaluated on its own terms, I nevertheless wish to point out the major differences between the short story and the movie.  In the short story, as may be gleaned from the title, the way Deeds must deal with the opera is a major part of the story, whereas it is a minor plot point in the movie.  And no murder takes place in the movie.  Rather, the lawsuit concerning a common-law wife is dismissed by Deeds as a fraud in about five minutes, not to be heard of again.  In “Opera Hat,” Cedar is an honest lawyer, whom Deeds still has in his employ at the end of the story.  When they first meet in Mandrake Falls, he and Deeds carry on an intelligent conversation about the inheritance.  There is no reporter out to write stories about Deeds in order to make fun of him.  Deeds expresses no interest in seeing Grant’s tomb.  It never occurs to him to give any of his money away.  There is no sanity hearing.  And, most important of all, Deeds never hits anyone, nor does he express any desire to do so.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

In the opening scene of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, we see an automobile moving along a winding road in the mountains at a high rate of speed before crashing through a fence and plunging over a cliff.  Not knowing anything else about the man driving the car, we figure he was reckless, irresponsible, and got what he deserved.  Then we get a montage of newspapers with big headlines above the fold, telling us that the man was Martin W. Semple, a financier worth twenty million dollars.  We see newsboys selling papers to customers anxious to get a copy.  As this is a Frank Capra movie with typical populist sentiments, the fact that Semple was rich is just one more reason we are not supposed to like him.

Adjusted for inflation, the value of the Semple estate in today’s dollars would be $377,000,000.  But while that might be correct as far as purchasing power is concerned, in terms of what it represents in the mind of the public, it just isn’t enough.  People wealthy enough nowadays to get that kind of attention from the media make that much money in a single year.  So, when this movie was remade in 2002 as Mr. Deeds, the screenwriter knew he couldn’t simply adjust for inflation and let it go at that.  Because the rich have gotten richer, the size of the estate had to reflect this new reality.  As a result, that twenty-first century Mr. Deeds inherits forty billion dollars.

The newspaper says Semple died while he was on a tour of Italy.  In a Frank Capra movie, good people live in small towns and hardly ever go anywhere, let alone vacation in some European country, so this guy Semple must have been decadent.  Later in the movie, we find out he was quite a womanizer, sometimes having as many as twenty women in his house at one time, just for him, although his valet admits that he never knew what Mr. Semple did with them.  Of course, twenty women is silly.  But if the valet had said that Mr. Semple would sometimes have two women just for himself, the realistic possibilities that would bring to mind might have met with objections from the Hays Office.

The newspapers are anxious to find out who the heir to the Semple fortune is, but John Cedar, the executor of the estate, is not letting that information out.  He and others that were trustees of Semple’s investments are guilty of embezzlement, and they need to get to the heir first so they can persuade him to allow them to continue in their present position as trustees, with Cedar having power of attorney.  That way they can continue to cover up their crime.

The heir turns out to be Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper), a country bumpkin living in a small town called Mandrake Falls.  His first name is ironic, for he writes short poems for greeting cards.  Cedar, Cornelius “Corny” Cobb (Lionel Stander), and a Mr. Anderson travel to Mandrake Falls as soon as they find out where Deeds lives.  When they get there, they see a sign that is supposed to greet new arrivals to the town.  With ill-disguised contempt, Cobb reads what it says:  “Welcome to Mandrake Falls / Where the scenery enthralls / Where no hardship e’er befalls / Welcome to Mandrake Falls.”  This is presumably a sample of Deeds’ poetry.

This sets up a paradox.  We know that in this populist Capra film, we are supposed to dislike the elite of a big city; and that we are supposed to like the unsophisticated citizens of a small town.  But viewed objectively, we know that we would roll our eyes and scoff at that piece of poetry, just as Cobb does.

Anyway, they are looking for Deeds, so they decide to ask the agent at the freight office where they can find him.  What follows is a form of supposed humor based on the idea of taking what someone says in the narrowest sense of the words without consideration for what is ordinarily understood.  As an example of what I mean, imagine that a teacher says to a student in the eighth grade to sit down, so the student immediately sits on the floor.  When the teacher tells him to get off the floor, he stands on a chair.  He thinks he is being funny.  Some of his classmates may think so as well.  Meanwhile, the teacher is thinking, “I need to find myself another job.”

Fortunately, most people grow out of this adolescent form of humor by the time they reach high school, but Frank Capra apparently never did.  So, when Cedar asks the agent that is sorting packages in the freight office if he knows Longfellow Deeds, the agent answers that he does and then walks away.  When the agent returns, Cedar says he wants to get in touch with him.  The agent says he won’t have any trouble at all, and then walks away with another package.  When Anderson asks him where Deed lives, the agent tells him where his house is, even though he knows Deeds is not home, but in the park.

At one point, Cobb says it must be a game he’s playing, much in the way the adolescent in my example is playing a game.  But the agent is not playing a game.  This is the way he thinks.  Nor are we given to understand that he is the village idiot, but rather is typical of the citizens of Mandrake Falls.  As I said previously, we know we are supposed to like small-town folks in a Capra movie, while disliking big-city sophisticates, but this sure is asking a lot.

Eventually, Deeds arrives home from the park, where his housekeeper tells him three men are waiting to talk to him.  What follows is another form of supposed humor, which consists of an inability to carry on a conversation.  That is, when someone says something to us, we are expected to respond in a way that recognizes what has just been said, and then continue with that line of thought.  But when Cedar tells Deeds that he has just inherited twenty million dollars, he and his housekeeper start talking about lunch.  The issue of lunch having been settled, Deeds starts playing his tuba.  When Cedar reminds Deeds of the inheritance he just told him about, Deeds says, “I wonder why he left me all that money. I don’t need it.”  The idea is that simple folks like Deeds, living in a small town, are so content with their lives that their happiness cannot be improved upon with additional money, no matter how much it is.  Eventually, Cedar persuades him to come to New York with him, though he never gives him any reason why he should.  Deeds agrees, saying he would like to see Grant’s tomb.  When they get to New York, Deeds moves into the mansion Mr. Semple lived in, complete with servants.

In It Happened One Night (1934) and in Meet John Doe (1941), two other films directed by Frank Capra, there is a cynical reporter that is out to get a story on someone that is good and decent, but with whom the reporter ends up falling in love, and that device is used in this movie as well.  Louise “Babe” Bennett (Jean Arthur) is a reporter who wants to write a series of stories about what a hick Deeds is.   She tricks him into falling in love with her by pretending to be a damsel in distress, which has long been a fantasy of his, allowing her to get the inside information she needs.

Deeds keeps saying he wants to see Grant’s tomb, and eventually Babe takes him there.  Babe says most people are disappointed, no doubt referring to the architecture, to the look of it.  But Deeds gets all emotional thinking about what it represents, saying it all depends on what you see.  When Babe asks him what he sees, he replies:

Me? Oh, I see a small Ohio farm boy becoming a great soldier. I see thousands of marching men. I see General Lee with a broken heart, surrendering, and I can see the beginning of a new nation, like Abraham Lincoln said. And I can see that Ohio boy being inaugurated as President.  Things like that can only happen in a country like America.

The first thing we notice about this is Deeds’ emphasis on the fact that Ulysses S. Grant was not some city slicker that grew up in New York, but someone that supposedly grew up on a farm.  I say “supposedly,” since a quick glance at Grant’s biography says nothing about his being a farm boy.  Presumably, he did grow up in a small town, however, which is in keeping with the idea that growing up in a small town is good and wholesome.  In fact, when Babe says she grew up in a small town too, we know that means her essential goodness will eventually come through, making her sorry for what she wrote about Deeds in the newspapers, and making her suitable for his future wife.

The Civil War had been fought less than a hundred years before this movie was made.  Perhaps it had more significance for people back then than it does today.  There is certainly no expressed desire to see Grant’s tomb in the 2002 remake of this movie.  Our sentiments regarding the Civil War have changed as well.  As we today see monuments to confederate generals being removed from the public square, and schools and military bases named after them being given new names, we are struck by Deeds’ reference to General Lee’s “broken heart” when he surrenders.  Whereas today there is a tendency to refer to such men as traitors, back when this movie was made, the men that fought for the South were still thought of as basically good people, and the whole war was just an unfortunate misunderstanding among patriotic Americans.  Deeds says that when he looks at Grant’s tomb, he sees thousands of marching men, which is an image that goes with the glory of war, when uniforms are cleaned and pressed, and men are still alive and whole.

Eventually, Deeds decides to help people who have become homeless during the Great Depression by giving them land to farm.  And from what I gather from watching The Grapes of Wrath (1940), there should be plenty of farm land available, inasmuch as people like the Joad family had to abandon their farms during the Dust Bowl, becoming the very homeless that Deeds is worried about.  In fact, it was a man that forced his way into Deeds’ house, threatening him with a gun, that gave him the idea.  The man said he lost his farm after twenty years.  He can’t find a job, and he has to stand in bread lines.  It turns out that there are thousands just like him, men and their families going hungry because they lost their farms.  So, if they lost their farms, whether on account of the Dust Bowl or some other reason, what good will it do to give them another farm?  Won’t they just go broke all over again?  But the agrarian myth of the goodness of the yeoman farmer as the backbone of America is strong enough in the minds of people like Capra to make them oblivious to that contradiction.  And besides, it fits right in with Deeds’ sentimental notions about the way Grant grew up on a farm.

Anyway, to prevent the money from being given away in this fashion, Cedar makes a deal with a relative of Deeds to have Deeds declared mentally incompetent, giving the relative the inheritance, from which Cedar will take his cut.  At the same time, Deeds finds out that Babe is the reporter that has been writing all those stories making fun of him.  She had planned on telling him how she had deceived him, and he might have forgiven her.  But in standard melodramatic fashion, he finds out about her deception from Cobb, and thus feels utterly betrayed, not believing anything she says.   Before returning to Mandrake Falls, he starts giving away the money to all those homeless farmers, but some men from the sheriff’s office arrive with a warrant for Deeds’ arrest on the grounds that he is insane.  He becomes so depressed as a result that he refuses to defend himself at the sanity hearing that will determine whether he should be kept in a mental institution.

During that hearing, Cedar calls as a witness Dr. Emil Von Holler, an Austrian psychiatrist, who speaks with an accent.  He is presently in America on a lecture tour.  In other words, Cedar is not calling, say, a Dr. Jake Jones from an American university to testify about Deeds’ mental state, but someone from the same country where Hitler was born, a country that would soon become part of the Anschluss. So, we know what we are supposed to think of this guy.  He explains the difference between the mood swings of a normal person, which are confined to a narrow range, and those of a manic-depressive, which lurch from one extreme to another. This is the one part of the movie that actually makes sense and is realistic. Speaking as a layman, it seems to me to be the correct diagnosis.

If a normal person inherited as much money as Deeds has, he might give a portion of it to charity, but he would never give it all away, even if he were perfectly happy before he got the inheritance. But I gather that is what a manic-depressive might do when he is in one of his manic phases. I had a neighbor once who said her husband had been diagnosed as being manic-depressive.  She said that one day he picked up a hitchhiker and gave him the car.  Fortunately, it was found abandoned a few days later.

Furthermore, if a normal person were placed in a mental institution against his will by people trying to get possession of his money, he would get a lawyer and defend himself. He would not sit there listlessly at his own hearing, refusing to utter a word, even if he were despondent on account of his having been betrayed by a woman he thought was the damsel in distress that he had dreamed about. But a manic-depressive, in one of his extreme states of melancholy, could reach a state of depression so dark that he would not care if he were institutionalized for the rest of his life.

We are supposed to reject this diagnosis on the part of the psychiatrist, however. Instead, we are supposed to think of Deeds as a saint, someone who is too good for this world, whose despondency is the result of being overwhelmed by a realization of how evil other people are. And yet, even if the diagnosis is correct, that in itself would be no reason to confine someone to a mental institution. Cedar, representing Deeds’ relatives, who want to get possession of the fortune, argues that Deeds needs to be locked up because his scheme to give all his money away, making farmers out of the homeless, threatens to cause civil unrest and undermine the very foundations of our nation.  “Our government is fully aware of its difficulties,” he continues, “and can pull itself out of its economic rut without the assistance of Mr.Deeds or any other crackpot.”

The association of this corrupt lawyer with the idea of that it is up to the government to solve our economic problems rather than private citizens, however rich they may be, is in keeping with Frank Capra’s politics.  Being a conservative Republican, he was opposed to Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal, and this was his way of besmirching those that advocate government intervention in an economic crisis.  It is the wont of conservatives, as they inveigh against putting people on the public dole, to praise the work of private charities, to which they are quick to tell you they have contributed so much of their time and money.  To hear them tell it, these charities used to meet all the needs of the poor until government handouts spoiled everything by making people think their own private contributions were unnecessary.  Of course, Capra was under no illusions that there was someone like Longfellow Deeds that would end the Great Depression with his largesse.  Rather, Deeds is the personification of individual initiative, of the common man and his desire to help his neighbor exaggerated for dramatic effect.

The idea that the eleemosynary excess of Longfellow Deeds would cause civil unrest is preposterous, and no court would take such an argument seriously. Deeds’ unbridled philanthropy might be a justification for having a court-appointed fiduciary take control of the inherited fortune for Deeds’ protection, although I doubt it. But it would be in no way a reason for locking someone up in an insane asylum after you’ve already taken his money away from him.

On the other hand, what would justify Deeds’ being institutionalized, but doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves, is that he routinely assaults people:  a lawyer claiming to represent Mr. Semple’s common-law wife; two poets in a restaurant; a photographer, in a scene we only read about in the newspaper; two psychiatrists, in a scene we only hear about from Cedar; Madame Pomponi, an operatic diva, along with other guests at Deeds’ house; and Chuck Dillon, a man back in Mandrake Falls to whom he gave a black eye, according to testimony given by the Falkner sisters.  Now, anyone who goes around pushing and punching people is either going to be arrested and put in prison or confined to a mental institution for the criminally insane.

And that doesn’t even include the people Deeds threatens to punch but never does.  In one scene, he and Babe are on some kind of open-air transport, where he hears two women laughing at what they read about him in the newspaper, though they are not aware Deeds is present and within earshot.  He says, “If they were men, I’d knock their heads together.”  Then he turns around and looks at a man who had said nothing, but is only reading a newspaper.  Deeds turns away and then turns back and glares at the man again, almost as if he is so furious he wants to hit him in the face.  His hostility is unnerving.  But it is part of the populist ideology that there is something clean and honest about hitting someone with your fists, as opposed to the biting humor, the irony, and the cruel wit of the city elite.

Because evidence of the assaults are interspersed with the goofy stuff Deeds does, such as playing the tuba while people are trying to talk to him, feeding doughnuts to a horse while asking the horse if he wants a cup of coffee, jumping on a fire engine, walking in the rain without a hat, and stripping down to his underwear in public, shouting, “Back to nature!” the effect is to make the assaults seem as harmless and frivolous as the goofy stuff.

Also, the assaults are minimized by the way the are introduced as evidence at the hearing.  With only one exception do we hear from a victim of an assault, to wit, Madame Pomponi, the operatic diva.  Because Deeds has also inherited the role of Chairman of the Board of Directors that promotes the opera, Pomponi arranged for a big party at the Deeds mansion for all those associated with the opera.  But Deeds got fed up with them and “threw them out.”  It is hard to know just how literally we are supposed to understand this.  We can imagine Pomponi and the other guests being pushed out the door when Deeds decided to get rid of them.

In the more serious cases, we only hear from witnesses to the assault rather than the victims.  For example, instead of bringing the Falkner sisters to New York to testify, among other things, that Deeds gave Chuck Dillon a black eye when he beat him up, Cedar could have brought Dillon himself to testify, but he didn’t.  Instead of having a waiter testify as to the assault of some poets at a restaurant for the literati, Cedar could have subpoenaed the poets themselves, but he didn’t.  Cedar points to the two psychiatrists on the panel, seated next to the judge, saying that they were violently attacked by Deeds, but he does not have them take the stand and testify to the assault themselves.  Needless to say, these secondhand reports at the hearing do not have nearly the impact that testimony from the victims themselves would have, especially if we had been able to see Dillon’s black eye or the swollen lip of one of the poets.

Just as the judge and his associates presiding over the hearing are about to confine Deeds to a mental institution, Babe jumps up and gives an impassioned plea in his defense, during which it comes out that she is in love with him.  Her editor backs her up.  Then Cobb comes to his defense, followed by outbursts from the farmers sitting in the courtroom.  This inspires Deeds to defend himself at last, taking the stand.

Now, you might think he would apologize for hitting people, explaining his behavior in that regard.  But no, he begins by explaining why he plays the tuba, saying it helps him think.  He compares this to nervous behavior exhibited by others in the courtroom, like doodling or biting one’s nails.  This goes on for two-and-a-half minutes.  At this point, Cedar objects, and you think to yourself, “All right, now he’s going to change the subject to the way Deeds goes around punching people in the face.”  Instead, he sticks to the goofy stuff:  “Let him explain his wanderings around the streets in underclothes, his feeding doughnuts to horses!”

And so now we now have to listen to Deeds justify his feeding doughnuts to a horse and his running around in his underwear, which he easily dismisses as the result of his being drunk for the first time in his life.  Then he points out that he read in the newspaper that Cedar’s son had been doing silly stuff while he was drunk.  Tu quoque!

Then Deeds turns to the Falkner sisters.  They were the ones that testified to Deeds behavior back in Mandrake Falls, saying he was “pixilated,” which meant that he was balmy.  They are portrayed as silly, old women who had to sit on the witness stand together because they are so timid.  It turns out that they live in the house owned by Deeds, and that they don’t have to pay rent.  After pointing this out, Deeds asks them if they still think he is pixilated.  They say that he is.  In fact, they say that everyone in Mandrake Falls is pixilated except them.  In fact, they say the judge is pixilated too.  But what Deeds does not refer to in cross examining the Falkner sisters is their testimony about how he beat up Chuck Dillon back in Mandrake Falls.

Then the judge turns to the serious subject.  No, not the stuff about where he goes around hitting people.  The judge seems oblivious to that too.  He wants to know about Deeds’ fantastic idea of giving away his inheritance.  Deeds makes two points.  The first is that the money has just made him miserable, what with all the vultures trying to get at that money.  The second is that he believes that those that have a lot should share with those that have so little.

And so, during Deeds’ defense, the subject of the assaults never comes up.  But then, having concluded his defense, he says there is one more thing he wants to do.  At this point, he punches Cedar so hard that it knocks him out.  Surely, the judge and the other two members of the panel can’t overlook this assault.  They retire to consider the matter.  When they return, the judge declares that not only is Longfellow Deeds sane, but also that he is the sanest person that has ever been in his courtroom.  The case is dismissed.

Suffice it to say that much in this movie is unrealistic. The real question is, what is it about this movie that people like?  We are not like Longfellow Deeds, nor would we want to be like him.  Oh, we might want to have his wealth once he inherited it, and a man might wish he were tall and handsome like Gary Cooper, but take away his money and his looks, and we wouldn’t want to trade places with him at all.  Nor would we want to live where he did, in Mandrake Falls. He is a virginal bachelor who never married because he dreamt of saving a lady in distress, a naïve yokel living in a small town, where everyone seems a little dotty. Apparently, people like the idea that there are places like Mandrake Falls, even though they would not like to live there themselves and would not fit in if they did.  It is one of those adorable cultures, like the Quakers in Friendly Persuasion (1956) or the hippie commune of Easy Rider (1969), that people regard with affection, much in the way parents will smile lovingly as they watch their children at play.  It is the idea that people like Longfellow Deeds live in towns like Mandrake Falls that people find appealing, even though they have no desire to be like him or live where he does.  You wouldn’t even want to be around someone as prone to violence as he is, unless, of course, he happened to have twenty million dollars and be in one of his manic moods.

Mr. Deeds (2002)

In producing a remake of a classic movie, thought must be given to justifying its existence.  For some, it is sufficient justification that the movie will be in widescreen and in color, for a lot of people don’t like old, black-and-white movies.  Another justification might be that it will be set contemporaneously, attuned to present-day sensitivities.  Both of these Mr. Deeds manages at achieve.  Perhaps to further justify its existence, those that produced this movie decided to modify the tone.  Although there is quite a bit of silliness in the original, Mr. Deeds takes silliness to a whole new level.

Deeds (Adam Sandler) does punch some people in this movie too, but in the context of this hyper-silliness, we never wonder why he isn’t arrested, or at least sued, as someone with forty billion dollars surely would be.  However, there was one character in this movie I was hoping Deeds would punch:  John McEnroe.

When I was in college in the 1960s, I took tennis to satisfy my physical education requirement.  We were told that tennis was a gentleman’s sport.  For example, if a judge accidentally called a ball outside, when the tennis player on that side of the net could see that it was really inside, it was not uncommon for him to purposely stand back and let the next ball go, thereby cancelling the point that was unfairly given to him.  But then along came John McEnroe.  I don’t know if he was the first tennis player to be rude and obnoxious, but he was definitely the worst.  Although he retired many years ago, tennis has the McEnroe taint on it to this day.  It has not been the same since.  But much to my chagrin, Deeds never puts his fist in the face of John McEnroe.

Whereas everyone in the original movie was white, this movie makes the required gestures to ethnicity.  We see Deeds carrying an elderly black man across the street in Mandrake Falls.  And when he decides to give his money away, it is to the United Negro College Fund.  Finally, whereas the lawsuit involving a common-law wife in “Opera Hat” was a fraud, complicated by a murder; and whereas it was also a fraud in the original movie, though quickly dispensed with; in Mr. Deeds, there really is a woman that gave birth to a child by Preston Blake, uncle of Longfellow Deeds.

Based on information in his diary, discovered by Babe (Wynona Ryder), this woman is an Hispanic maid that worked in the Blake Media Building where Blake had his office.  Blake had sex with this woman one night while working late, and nine months later, she had a baby.  That child turns out to be Emilio Lopez (John Turturro), Deeds’ butler.

I say “Hispanic,” but there is some puzzling dialogue in this regard.  At one point in the movie, when Cedar (Peter Gallagher) refers to Lopez as being Puerto Rican, Lopez replies, “I hail from Spain, sir.”  However, Lopez later says that he never knew who his father was, and his mother died while giving birth to him.  So, who told him he was from Spain?  For that matter, why does he speak with an Spanish accent?  Did he pick that up in a foster home?  And by what coincidence did he end up being Blake’s servant upon becoming an adult?  And as long as I’m nitpicking, why didn’t the maid come to Blake six weeks later, saying, “I’m pregnant. What are we going to do?”  There is nothing in his diary to indicate he was aware she was going to have a child.  Well, regardless of the answers to those questions, Lopez inherits all the money, though giving a billion to Deeds as he and Babe head back to Mandrake Falls to get married and live happily ever after.

There is no sanity hearing for Deeds in this remake, although there might need to be one for the people that made this movie.

One thought on “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and Mr. Deeds (2002)

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