Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Meet John Doe (1941)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Meet John Doe (1941)

In Frank Capra's populist melodramatic tale about the common man:

  • the typing of a column by struggling, sassy newspaper columnist Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) who saved her job by fabricating a letter from a typical 'John Doe' character (a "disgusted American citizen") protesting unemployment, hypocrisy, greed, inhumanity and other injustices suffered by the nation's poor on account of big business tycoons, corrupt moguls and slimy politicians ("Dear Miss Mitchell: Four years ago, I was fired out of my job. Since then, I haven't been able to get another one. At first, I was sore at the state administration because it's on account of the slimy politics here. We have all this unemployment. But in looking around, it seems the whole world is goin' to pot. So in protest, I'm goin' to commit suicide by jumping off the City Hall roof") - to protest, he threatened to commit suicide on Christmas Eve by jumping from the roof of City Hall
  • the scene of the selection of plain-speaking, homeless, ex-ball player and hobo "Long John" Willoughby (Gary Cooper) to play the part of 'John Doe': (Ann: "He's perfect, a baseball player. What could be more American?...that face is wonderful. They'll believe him...That's our man, he's made-to-order")
  • the warning of Willoughby's vagrant, anti-social tramp companion, simply named "The Colonel" (Walter Brennan), that he would become corrupted by wealth and turn into a heel or "heelot": ("You're walkin' along, not a nickel in your jeans, you're free as the wind. Nobody bothers ya. Hundreds of people pass you by in every line of business. Shoes, hats, automobiles, radios, furniture, everything, and they're all nice loveable people. And they let you alone. Is that right? Then you get ahold of some dough and what happens? All those nice, sweet, lovable people become heelots. A lotta heels! They begin creepin' up on ya, tryin' to sell ya something. They get long claws and they get a stranglehold on ya and ya squirm and ya duck and ya holler and ya try to push 'em away, but you haven't got a chance. They've got ya. The first thing you know, you own things - a car, for instance. Now your whole life is messed up with a lot more stuff. You get license fees and number plates and gas and oil and taxes and insurance and identification cards and letters and bills and flat tires and dents and traffic tickets and motorcycle cops and courtrooms and lawyers and fines - and a million and one other things! And what happens? You're not the free and happy guy you used to be. You've gotta have money to pay for all those things. So you go after what the other fella's got. And there you are - you're a heelot yourself")
  • the scene of John Doe's 15-minute radio speech in which he spoke of his faith in the essential goodness of the common man and promoted brotherly love with one's neighbor: ("...There's something swell about the spirit of Christmas, to see what it does to people, all kinds of people. Now why can't that spirit, that same warm Christmas spirit last the whole year round? Gosh, if it ever did, if each and every John Doe would make that spirit last 365 days out of the year - we'd develop such a strength, we'd create such a tidal wave of good will that no human force could stand against it. Yes sir, my friends, the meek can only inherit the earth when the John Does start loving their neighbors. You'd better start right now. Don't wait till the game is called on account of darkness. Wake up, John Doe, you're the hope of the world")
  • John Doe's defense of the John Doe Movement, even after finding out about the scheming chicanery of right wing tycoon and financier-publisher D. B. Norton (Edward Arnold) to exploit it for votes: ("Why, this is the one worthwhile thing that's come along. People are finally finding out that the guy next door isn't a bad egg. That's simple, isn't it?...It may be the one thing capable of saving this cock-eyed world. Yet you sit back there on your fat hulks and tell me you'll kill it if you can't use it. Well, you go ahead and try. You couldn't do it in a million years with all your radio stations and all your power, because it's bigger than whether I'm a fake, it's bigger than your ambitions, and it's bigger than all the bracelets and fur coats in the world")
  • the scene of John Doe's public humiliation at a rainy political convention by D. B. Norton's dictatorial, anti-democratic intentions - Doe was pulled from the microphone, accused of being part of the "cheap racket...for the sole purpose of collecting dues from John Does all over the country," and revealed to be an imposter-fraud
  • the scene of John Doe's threat to jump off City Hall on a snowy and cold Christmas Eve when Ann hysterically sobbed and urgently begged him not to kill himself - and admitted her love for him: ("Well, you don't have to die to keep the John Doe idea alive. Someone already died for that once. The first John Doe. And he's kept that idea alive for nearly 2,000 years. It was He who kept it alive in them. And He'll go on keeping it alive for ever and always - for every John Doe movement these men kill, a new one will be born. That's why those bells are ringing, John. They're calling to us, not to give up but to keep on fighting, to keep on pitching. Oh, don't you see darling? This is no time to give up. You and I, John, we...Oh, no, no, John. If you die, I want to die too. Oh, oh, I love you. Oh, John..")
'John Doe' Threatening Suicide
Ann's Declaration of Love for 'John Doe'
"There you are, Norton! The People! Try and lick that!"
  • the upbeat conclusion in which John Doe walked away from the ledge toward his supporters carrying an unconscious Ann in his arms, after the John Doe club members had renewed their faith in him, and Ann's managing editor Henry Connell (James Gleason) with his fist told off the oppressive and evil Norton in the final line: ("There you are, Norton! The people! Try and lick that!") after John had decided to not commit suicide - with the finale accompanied by Beethoven's Ninth Symphony

Columnist Ann Mitchell Fabricating Fictitious Character of 'John Doe'

"Long John" Willoughby (Gary Cooper) Exploited To Play the Part of 'John Doe'

Tramp Companion: "The Colonel" (Walter Brennan)

John Doe Clubs

Delivery of 'John Doe's' Radio Speech

Treacherous and Scheming Politician D. B. Norton (Edward Arnold)

'John Doe's' Public Humiliation in Rain at Convention


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