One of my favorite filmmakers is the 1930s and 1940s American director Frank Capra. When I first watched his movies, I initially assumed Capra was a liberal. Frank Capra, though, was actually a conservative Republican. But during the 1930s he was an open minded man who collaborated with many leftwing screenwriters to produce his many classic movies. Capra’s most fruitful collaboration was with the New Deal liberal Robert Riskin, the screenwriter of It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, You Can’t Take It With You and Meet John Doe. So Capra’s films were a mixture of both progressive and conservative values.
The conservative Capra and the liberal Riskin were both deeply concerned about how to uphold our American democratic values in the face of the Great Depression, a fascist threat in Europe and dangerous homegrown demagogues like Huey Long and Father Coughlin. When Frank Capra and Robert Riskin collaborated in the 1941 movie “Meet John Doe”, they used the movie to attack sympathy for fascism in the U.S. and to defend democratic institutions like the freedom of the press. Both men were horrified by a rally by American Nazis that took place on February 20, 1939, in Madison Square Garden that had 20,000 attendees. “Meet John Doe” also criticized our vulnerability to being seduced by demagogues who are able to exploit radio, a response to the popularity of Huey Long and Father Coughlin.
At a time when the Alt Right is influencing people to be more receptive to fascist thought, and when our free press is under attack, I think “Meet John Doe” is more relevant than ever. Here is a youtube video of the whole film.