If there is one film all of America should watch it's this one. Especially when there is so much division and disharmony; not just beween politicians, but all common folk. A collapse of decency, some might call it.
Imagine yourself living in a big city or state where the economy is bad, unemployment is high, many people in need of food, and all the politicians are crooked. You then decide to protest these ills of society by threatening to jump off the roof of City Hall on Christmas Eve unless things improve. Do you think anything would change? Would anybody care?
This is the premise behind Frank Capra's 1941 film Meet John Doe,
starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. A story that deals with the heart of the American people. Who would have thought a story from 1941 could resonate with our country, even today.
Stanwyck plays reporter Ann Mitchell of the New Bulletin newspaper,a struggling paper that has been bought by a wealthy industrialist. Ann gets laid off from her job but is asked to write one final column. She obviously wants to come up with something that will draw fireworks in hopes of maybe keeping her job. Ann creates a fictional character named John Doe, an unemployed homeless man who writes a letter to the paper protesting against the collapse of decency in the world and threatens to jump off the roof of City Hall at midnight on Christmas Eve unless things change.
The Governor and some competing newspapers believe this is a hoax and just another publicity stunt. So when the town begins to show an interest in John Doe by offering him a job and a place to live, the newspaper finds itself needing to cover up its tracks. So they hire a homeless man who is without any family to pose as John Doe.
The newspaper and Ann Mitchell decide to use John Doe to unite the American people with Doe's philosophy that it is the little people who are the backbone of America:
"The character of the country is the sum character of the little punks.
The meek will inherit the earth when we all work together."
And one of John Doe's other philosophies that he asks of the people,
"Why can't that Spirit, that Christmas Spirit, last all year long?"
John Doe is asked to do a radio speech and the next thing you know his story has taken the country by storm. News begins to spread throughout the land of his story and small town folks are creating John Doe Clubs to carry out his message. These clubs obviously have one stipulation: no politicians allowed.
Ann Mitchell and her publisher decide to circulate John Doe and his message throughout the towns of America and we see small towns everywhere uniting together with brotherly love toward one another. Neighbors are seen giving other neighbors a helping hand with food, small jobs with pay,and offering others a place to live.
And as any good story goes, there's always one villain in the crowd.And in this case it is the owner of the newspaper,a man named Norton, who wants to use the John Doe movement for his own welfare to gain a seat in the White House.
Of course John Doe has no desire to go along with this political maneuver and realizes Norton is just another politician who wants to kill the decency of mankind and the John Doe's of the world. Norton blackmails John Doe to follow or otherwise he would spread the news that John Doe is a fake, and he would then be shunned by society wherever he went.
When John Doe addresses a crowd of thousands at a John Doe Rally, Norton pulls out all the stops. He has delivery boys spread throughout the crowd newspapers with the headline John Doe is a Fake. Amidst all the ruckus, John Doe leaves out a back entrance and disappears for a few days. And while he has disappeared from the American people without a word, John Doe Clubs begin to disband throughout the land.
On Christmas Eve night, church bells ringing at the strike of midnight, John Doe shows up atop the roof of City Hall. But also up there waiting for him are a few loyal John Doe club members who still believe in his philosophy and had seen it work in their neighborhoods. John Doe has seen the hatred throughout the country, the dirty politics, and the indecency of mankind, and chooses to go ahead with the once created plan of jumping. And then Ann Mitchell comes running into his arms with the speech of all speeches:
"Please don't give up, John! The John Doe movement isn't dead. Oh,John, if it's worth dying for, it's worth living for. Oh,please John...you wanna be honest don't ya'? Well you don't have to keep the John Doe idea alive. Someone already died for that once. The first John Doe. And He's kept that idea alive for nearly 2,000 years.
And He'll go on keeping it alive for ever and ever and always."
My hope is that this coming New Year we will see many John Doe's flourish throughout our land. All it takes to start is one individual willing to carry on that Christmas Spirit all year long. Will it be you?