#97. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Last night I was on Tinder just before I sat down to watch Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and I matched with this girl whose arms were sleeved in tattoos and who’s got a buzz cut on half of her head and these big glasses, dirty blond hair, tons of piercings. Super cool. And so we got to talking about having maybe crossed each other’s paths in person, since we have a bunch of friends in common and seem to live nearby, and then she asks me how tall I am, and I tell her.


Now it’s about twenty hours later and I’m figuring – was figuring even as I watched the movie immediately afterward – that I won’t hear from her again [Editor’s note from the future: I did not], which is a bummer, sure, but also hey, y’know, it’s good. Right? Anyway, I think it may have put an edge to my mood, being dismissed, and so maybe I wasn’t as responsive to Mr. Deeds Goes to Town as I ought to have been. I thought it was boring and that Deeds himself (Gary Cooper) was a raging petulant twat throughout. Clever and shrewd and generous, sure, but insufferable.

mr. deeds tailor
Cooper wears a lot of this awe-shucks discomfort within the trappings of wealth.

But even now I think I might be looking back and assessing it with a vitriol that the movie doesn’t deserve. And I guess that’s worth addressing because when I talk with female friends about Tinder they seem to’ve all had the experience of chatting with a guy, things are going well, until suddenly he says something that turns her off. Often it’s something inappropriate but sometimes it’s banal. So she’ll stop responding. Finding himself ignored, Tinder Guy loses his shit. Starts shooting off furious missives about “you’re not even that attractive” and other nakedly vulnerable stuff. There was a story recently of a white college bro losing his scholarship (or was he expelled? I can’t find the story, but here’s something similar) for launching into hate speech against a black woman he matched with on Tinder. If I remember correctly, the woman on the receiving end didn’t even really engage him: just went straight to his university with screenshots of the conversation. That distinctly male anger at being ignored, unseen, is a dangerous thing that I definitely wasn’t on the verge of last night, having been shot down by this anonymous person on Tinder, but it’s rooted in a feeling of entitlement and appreciation, maybe especially of entitlement to sex, and I do think that I — like maybe anyone else — am susceptible to lapsing into that sense of entitlement when using these antiseptic dating platforms. It can feel, when things aren’t working out, like every other technological frustration: that this isn’t a person I’m getting upset with but an app. Like the person on the other end isn’t a person on the other end, but rather the product of an algorithm.

Probably a flawed comparison here but it seems somehow applicable to the premise of Deeds, which is finally about a man who’s trying to alleviate the Depression-era threats faced by farmers, the farmers being men who feel invisible in the eyes of their government – an invisible and ostensibly non-human entity, against which they impotently rage.

I didn’t enjoy Mr. Deeds Goes to Town but, as with My Man Godfrey (which I did enjoy), I can see that it’s governed by the sensibility of its time and therefore occupies its spot on the List with good reason. Longfellow Deeds, after inheriting $20 million from an estranged uncle, is ultimately taken to court by one of the family’s greedy attorneys on grounds that he (i.e. Deeds is mentally unfit to handle the money because he wants to give it away to starving farmers. Ends the movie with a soliloquy about how we need to help the less fortunate. A court room full of farmers cheers him on.

mr. deeds court
Gary Cooper as Deeds in court, silent, refusing to defend himself.

The Great Depression is written all over this. I think it’s interesting as an artifac of its time but after watching a string of such artifacts I’m confident in saying that this one isn’t exceptional.

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