Meet John Doe
Original poster
Directed by: Frank Capra
Produced by: Frank Capra
Written by: Richard Connell
Robert Presnell Sr.
Cast: Gary Cooper
Barbara Stanwyck
Edward Arnold
Runtime: 122 mins.
Country: USA
Language: English

Meet John Doe is a 1941 comedy/drama directed and produced by Frank Capra and starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. The film, about a "grassroots" political campaign, created unwittingly by a newspaper columnist and pursued by a wealthy businessman, became a box office hit and was nominated for an Academy Award for best original story (for Richard Connell and Robert Presnell Sr.). Though the film is less well known than other Capra classics, it remains highly regarded today. The film is ranked #49 at AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers.

In a March 13, 1941 New York Times review of the film, critic Bosley Crowther noted the similarities between John Doe and other "everyman" characters in Frank Capra films:

Actually, this is not our first introduction to John Doe. Mr. Capra has already presented him under the names of Longfellow Deeds and Jefferson Smith, the fellows, you remember, who went to town and to Washington, respectively. He is the honest and forthright fellow—confused, inconsistent but always sincere—who believes in the basic goodness of people and has the courage to fight hard for principles. When he went to town, he was fighting for a vague but comprehensible social ideal; in Washington, his adversaries were those who would use the United States Senate for corrupt and venal purposes.

Plot summaryEdit

Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

Infuriated at being laid off from her job as a newspaper columnist at The New Bulletin, Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) prints a fake letter from the unemployed "John Doe," threatening to commit suicide on New Year's Eve in protest of society's ills. When the note causes a sensation, the newspaper is forced to rehire Mitchell. The paper's editor, Henry Connell (James Gleason) and Ann hire a John Willoughby (Gary Cooper), a former minor league baseball player who has become a tramp to play the role of "John Doe." Ann's newspaper stories create an "All-American" persona for John Doe, and his fame spreads across the nation. His plain-spoken philosophy of helping one's neighbor strikes a chord and developes into a movement.

But Ann discovers that her newspaper publisher, D.B. Norton (Edward Arnold,) is bankrolling popular "John Doe Clubs" across the nation only to use them to launch a presidential campaign to put Norton in the White House. At his mansion, Norton tells his wealthy and powerful friends he will offer an "iron fist" to keep the John Doe people in line, something that goes against the club's beliefs and alarms both her and Willoughby himself when they hear him.

Willoughby confronts Norton on the night he is to speak before a large convention of John Doe Club members and he refuses to give a prepared speech endorsing Norton for president, saying he and the special interests he represents are against everything the John Doe movement stands for. In retaliation, Norton has a Special Edition of the newspaper printed calling Doe a fraud, which Willoughby must admit when Norton confronts him at the podium later during the event. Seemingly ruined, Willoughby actually contemplates suicide, but in the final, climactic scene, he is dissuaded by Ann to not jump from the rooftop of the 14-story City Hall building. Ann admits she loves him, and some of the club members urge him to carry on regardless of Norton's exposure of his original lie.

Spoilers end here.

Cast Edit

Actor Role
Gary Cooper John Doe/Long John Willoughby
Barbara Stanwyck Ann Mitchell
Edward Arnold D. B. Norton
Walter Brennan The Colonel
Spring Byington Mrs. Mitchell
James Gleason Henry Connell, editor, The New Bulletin
Gene Lockhart Mayor Lovett
Rod La Rocque Ted Sheldon, Norton's nephew

Selected quotesEdit

  • "You'll play your cards right and you'll never have to worry about money again." - Edward Arnold as D.B. Norton
  • "Please don't give up. We'll start all over again. Just you and I. It isn't too late. The John Doe movement isn't dead yet. You see, John, it isn't dead or they wouldn't be here. It's alive in them. They kept it alive by being afraid. That's why they came up here. Oh, darling!... We can start clean now. Just you and I. It'll grow John, and it'll grow big because it'll be honest this time. Oh, John, if it's worth dying for, it's worth living for." - Barbara Stanwyck as Ann Mitchell
  • "Lighthouses, John. Lighthouses in a foggy world." - James Gleason as Henry Connell
  • "To most of you, your neighbor is a stranger, a guy with a barking dog and a fence around him. Now you can't be a stranger to any guy who's on your own team. So tear down that fence that separates you...You'll tear down a lot of hate and prejudices...I know a lot of you are saying to yourself: 'He's asking for a miracle!' ...Well, you're wrong. It's no miracle!...I see it happen once every year at Christmas time...Why can't that spirit last the whole year round? Gosh, if it ever did - we'd develop such a strength that no human force could stand against it." - Gary Cooper as John Doe


  • The film was released in the United Kingdom under the title: "John Doe: Dynamite".

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