Posts Tagged ‘Barbara Stanwyck’

I was working in the studio yesterday with the television on, set to one of the news channels.  After a while, the constant drone of bad news from every corner of the world- unstable economies, Wall Street panic, oil spills. floods, terrorist bombings, wars and on and on-became more than I could bear.  I flipped over to a movie channel and there it was.  Meet John Doe, the Frank Capra classic from 1941 starring Gary Cooper and the great Barbara Stanwyck.

Meet John Doe is one of Capra’s visions of American idealism wherein the main character hesitatingly fights the malevolence and greed of those in power for the rights of those with little power.  Think Jimmy Stewart in Mr Smith Goes to Washington or It’s a Wonderful Life.  In these movies, the hero often has the very people he champions turn on him, usually as the result of those in power twisting the truth to suit their own dark agendas.  But in Capra’s world, the hero perseveres and is vindicated by the truth.  Sure, it’s naive but it’s a wonderful place to let your imagination rest for a spell.

The hero here is Cooper who plays a drifter who is enlisted by a newspaper  to play the part of John Doe, a character in a publicity stunt who threatens to kill himself on Christamas Eve because of the state of the world.  This was 1941, folks.  Europe was at war with the Nazis marching and we were on the verge of entering the fray. We were still reeling after a decade of the Great Depression.  It was not a pretty time. 

The John Doe character was supposed to disappear after Christmas but it hit a note with the common note and a populist movement grew from it, funded by the newspaper mogul (played to perfection by Edward Arnold who I will someday highlight in this blog) who seeks to usurp and mold it to suit  the political agenda of his powerful cronies and himself.   Sound familiar?  The mogul tries to destroy the movement and Doe, who has come to believe in the ideals that he is supposed to represent as John Doe,  by turning the movement against, portraying him as a fraud and an opportunist. 

Eventually, right prevails, of course, and Doe overcomes the powerful and the people’s movement continues.  I know it’s a fantasy but after day after day of watching newcasts filled with nothing but darkness and dire pessimism, I’ll choose this fantasyof hope and possibility anytime.  I never fail to be moved by these movies from Frank Capra, and the day that I’m not,  I will truly be worried because that means I will have lost all optimism.  And that is a dark day for anyone.

Here’s one of my favorite scenes with the great Walter Brennan, who plays John Doe’s traveling companion.  Here, he gives his theory about heelots

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I was painting in the studio yesterday and I threw on a movie that I hadn’t seen in years, Ball of Fire starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck.  It’s a great comedy from1941, written by Billy Wilder and featuring some of the great character actors of the time.

I only mention  this because there’s a great scene of Stanwyck performing as a nightclub singer with Gene Krupa, the legendary drummer , and his band.  They perform Drum Boogie and if you ever doubted that your parents or grandparents knew how to rock, this will put those doubts to rest.

Try to stay with it to the end.  Krupa does a part where he changes Drum Boogie to Matchbox Boogie and plays the song with wooden matches as his sticks.  There’s a lesson in there for artists about the power of contrasts.

Good stuff…

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