The movie opened in New York to lukewarm reviews but was well received by the paying public and was one of the ten highest grossing movies of that year. The New York Film Critics and the National Board of Review named it the "Best Picture of 1936".
The movie was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor and won one - Best Director for Frank Capra. It was Capra's second Oscar, after he received the Best Director Award for 'It Happened One Night' in 1934.
PlotLongfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper) inherits the $20 million estate of his multi-millionaire uncle, but is convinced that the money will do him no good and tries to give it aways. The lawyers immediately take him to court, claiming he is insane, but, helped by a cynical reporter, Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur), his idealism triumphs in the end.
The movie was one of the first of the 'screwball' genre and is filled with bright comic moments such as Deeds playing the tuba to clear his mind, or feeding donuts to horses. It is a hymn to the simple old-style country life and nicely explores the theme of innocence and corruption, and the ability of the common man to make a difference in a democracy.
ProductionFrank Capra had swept the Academy Awards with 'It Happened One Night' in 1934, and after making 'Broadway Bill' in the same year he looked for something more substantial - a movie with a moral. He chose to base his next movie on 'The Opera Hat' a serialised story by Clarence Buddington Kelland, an ex-lawyer who had a long career as a writer of fiction and short stories. It was the start of a run of brilliant 'social statement ' movies by Capra. He followed 'Mr Deeds' with 'Lost Horizon' in 1937, 'You Can't Take It With You' the following year and 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' in 1939, all of which became classics of individuality confronting mass conformity. For the first time Capra was given credit above the title, an extremely rare event up to that time. Kelland's work was made into a screenplay by Robert Riskin, in the seventh of twelve collaborations with Capra. Kelland was not happy with the finished product and would not permit the script to be published during his lifetime.
Production began on 13 December, 1935 and lasted 47 days until early February, 1936. The original working titles used were 'A Gentleman Goes to Town', 'Cinderella Man' and 'Opera Hat'. The final choice of tilte was the winning entry in a competition organised by the Columbia Pictures PR department.
CastingCapra's first and only choice for the Longfellow Deeds role was Gary Cooper, but Cooper was not available for six months, causing production to be delayed and adding about $100,000 to the overall cost.
Carole Lombard was Capra's original choice for the role of "Babe" Bennett, but she dropped out to do 'My Man Godfrey' three days before the start of filming. Capra then cast Jean Arthur in the role, against the advice of Columbia boss, Harry Cohn. Capra made Cohn pay attention to Arthur's naturally comedic voice, not her face. Arthur was exceptionally nervous but gave an excellent performance under Capra's gentle tutelage. Although she had already been in over 70 movies dating back to the silent era, this was the role that made her famous.
Main CastGary Cooper .... Longfellow Deeds
Jean Arthur .... Louise "Babe" Bennett
George Bancroft .... MacWade/"Mac"
Lionel Stander .... Cornelius Cobb
Douglass Dumbrille .... John Cedar
Raymond Walburn .... Walter
H.B. Warner .... Judge May
Ruth Donnelly .... Mabel Dawson
Walter Catlett .... Morrow
CreditsDirector ... Frank Capra
Producer ... Frank Capra
Production Company ... Columbia Pictures
Story ... Based on the short story by Clarence Budington Kelland
Screenplay ... Robert Riskin
Cinematography ... Joseph Walker
Music ... Howard Jackson
Format ... B & W
Release date ... April 12, 1936
Running time ... 115 min.
Academy AwardsOne Win:
Best Director ... Frank Capra
Four Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Columbia
Best Actor ... Gary Cooper
Best Screenplay ... Robert Riskin
Sound Recording ... Columbia studio Sound Dept., John Livadary, Sound director