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Mr. Deeds Goes to Town: 80th Anniversary Edition

Sony Pictures // Unrated // October 4, 2016
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Randy Miller III | posted October 14, 2016 | E-mail the Author

Based on Clarence Budington Kelland's short story Opera Hat, Frank Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) remains a standout in the director's formidable body of work. Produced right in the middle of Capra's well-received run of films written by Robert Riskin---which include Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and You Can't Take It With You, among others---this tale of a big fish in a big pond remains charming and accessible eight decades after its original release. Gary Cooper stars as title character Longfellow Deeds, an unassuming and honest man from Mandrake Falls, Vermont, who unexpectedly inherits $20 million from estranged late Uncle Martin Semple. Semple's lawyer, John Cedar (Douglass Dumbrille) delivers the "good news" in person, and they return to New York...but Deeds has never left his small town, just one hint that the part-time poet and tuba player might be in over his head.

Luckily, he isn't. It's a good thing too, since no shortage of obstacles befall the newly-rich Deeds upon his arrival: Cedar is planning to bilk him out of the money, while hotshot reporter Louise "Babe" Bennett (Jean Arthur) even gets the inside scoop by pretending to be a damsel in distress under a false name. Longfellow sees through one scheme but not the other, gradually developing a relationship with "Mary Dawson" while attempting to fend off Cedar and all the other big-city hotshots that belittle and mock him. Eventually, Longfellow discovers Mary's true identity...and soon enough, the flustered man is eager to return home to Vermont. Before he leaves, Longfellow's chance encounter with a disgruntled, down-and-out farmer gives him a newfound purpose for life and a reason to get rid of his unwanted fortune: to help those less fortunate. It's a crazy idea when you're surrounded by selfish individuals, especially once Cedar doubles down on legal trickery to secure his unfair share of the wealth.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town feels like the kind of production that could've been made in almost any year and done well, though its footprint in the middle of The Great Depression gives it all the more poignancy and lasting impact. Yet its most obvious strength comes from the names behind it; none more than aforementioned screenwriter Robert Riskin, who's entirely responsible for all that cracking dialogue. Paired with the efficient editing of Gene Havlick and steady direction of Frank Capra (all three worked together on five films during the 1930s), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town remains a watchable, engaging film for all the right reasons, as well as a showcase for several of its stars' most memorable performances. High Noon's Marshal Will Kane and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington's Saunders are perhaps Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur's most enduring roles, but Longfellow and "Babe" can't be too far behind.

Last released on home video all the way back in 2000 (and reissued as part of 2006's Frank Capra Collection), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town has strangely remained absent on Blu-ray until this year; it was even beaten to the punch by that awful Adam Sandler remake a half-decade ago. Either way, it's been worth the wait: following the annual releases of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and You Can't Take It With You in 2014 and 2015, Sony treats us to a classy Blu-ray digibook that sports a brand-new 4K restoration of the film as its main selling point. The careful clean-up work makes Mr. Deeds's once tired, tattered, and worn-out original camera negative shine like new.

A word about availability: originally advertised with an October 4th "Amazon exclusive" release date, this Blu-ray edition of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is currently not available to order...but a late-November general release has been all but confirmed. Be patient and you'll most certainly be able to snag one for the holidays.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, this sparkling 1080p transfer of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town looks virtually flawless on Blu-ray. A brand new 4K master was created for this 80th Anniversary Edition, which reveals a staggering amount of fine detail in comparison with the previous DVD (no surprises there). Black levels are consistent, image detail and textures are strong, and the grain structure is represented very well from start to finish, resulting in an extremely natural and clean appearance. No obvious digital imperfections or manipulation---compression artifacts, interlacing, excessive noise reduction, etc.---could be spotted along the way, either. Only a few mild blemishes were evident during brief scene transitions, undoubtedly a source material issue that's long since been "baked in" to the picture and could never be corrected. I simply can't imagine Mr. Deeds Goes to Town looking any better on Blu-ray than it does here, so die-hard fans and newcomers alike should be extremely pleased.

DISCLAIMER: The still images and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.

The audio also comes through cleanly on this DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio track, preserving Mr. Deeds Goes to Town's theatrical mix while faithfully reproducing the dialogue and Howard Jackson's original score. There's some modest depth at times and excellent dynamic range, which makes this production sound quite a bit younger than it really is. In other words, genre fans and newcomers alike won't find much to complain about with this lossless audio treatment. Optional Dolby Digital 1.0 dubs are offered during the main feature in French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish; subtitles are also available in English (SDH), Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish (Castilian), Swedish, and Turkish. Whew!


Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

The simple interface includes options for chapter access, audio/subtitle setup, and extras. Loading time is fast with minimal logos and other distractions. The packaging itself is a real standout: similar to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, this one-disc release is housed in a nice Digibook loaded with production photos, still images, promotional material, an all-new essay by film historian Jeremy Arnold, and even a nice write-up about the 4K restoration (which apparently took eight months and multiple source materials, including the badly-damaged original negative).

Bonus Features

Just about everything from the 2000 DVD (such as it is) including a feature-length Audio Commentary and a brief 1999 Featurette, both featuring the director's late son Frank Capra, Jr. Neither supplement goes into more than modest detail, especially the uneven commentary track. Also here is what appears to be a different---and extremely slow-loading---Marketing Materials section with eight lobby cards (the original DVD also included poster images), plus a re-release Theatrical Trailer that wasn't included the first time around. Lackluster, but not surprising.

Final Thoughts

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is a timeless, charming production that's aged gracefully during the last eight decades, thanks to a tight, terrific screenplay by Robert Riskin, efficient editing and direction by Gene Havlick and Frank Capra, and no shortage of memorable, crowd-pleasing performances. Sony's 80th Anniversary Edition continues the studio's annual tradition started by Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and You Can't Take It With You, presenting another Capra film in a handsome digibook package with beautifully remastered picture and sound. The bonus features are disappointing...but like the others, this one's priced to move for the holiday season. Highly Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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