Meet John Doe Blu-ray Review

3.5 Stars Paint-by-numbers Capra film gets best-ever home video release from ClassicFlix
Meet John Doe Screenshot

Today, Meet John Doe. From the mid-1930s through the mid-1940s, director Frank Capra had one of the most notable runs of high quality films anyone has ever made, beginning with 1934’s It Happened One Night and culminating in 1946’s It’s A Wonderful Life. In between those two, either of which would automatically be the best works of any other director’s filmography, he made a seemingly non-stop run of masterpieces, including Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, Lost Horizon, and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, as well as You Can’t Take It With You and Arsenic And Old Lace.

And then there’s Meet John Doe.

Meet John Doe (1941)
Released: 03 May 1941
Rated: Passed
Runtime: 122 min
Director: Frank Capra
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Cast: Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward Arnold
Writer(s): Richard Connell, Robert Presnell Sr., Robert Riskin
Plot: A penniless drifter is recruited by an ambitious columnist to impersonate a non-existent person who said he'd be committing suicide as a protest, and a social movement begins.
IMDB rating: 7.6
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Other
Distributed By: ClassicFlix
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 3 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Clear Scanavo Case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: ABC
Release Date: 05/21/2024
MSRP: $29.99

The Production: 3.5/5

Meet John Doe isn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. Frank Capra was simply too good of a craftsman and storyteller, too good at bringing voice to popular sentiment, too good at capturing the national mood of the time, to produce a genuinely awful work. Working again with leading man Gary Cooper, and teaming up with many of usual contributors including the writer Robert Riskin and the composer Dmitri Tiomkin, Meet John Doe certainly has the look and feel of Capra’s other Everyman films. But where Mr. Deeds and Mr. Smith succeeded by addressing genuine issues and guiding their audiences from outrange to catharsis, Meet John Doe doesn’t pack quite the same punch.

In the end, Capra’s talents are unable to transcend the film’s rudimentary story, which has desperate newswoman Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck, overemphasizing nearly every beat) recruiting a ‘John Doe’ (Cooper, very self-contained) to serve as personification for a fictitious letter-to-the-editor she herself wrote in an attempt to save her job and boost circulation. The paper’s owner, D.B. Norton (Edward Arnold, effective in a one-note role) quickly gets behind the scheme, but seeks to use Doe’s rising popularity for his own gain. Will Norton’s nefarious scheme be stopped in time? Will Mitchell get her man? Will Doe triumph over or give in to adversity? Your first guess is almost certainly right. The best of Capra’s work makes you believe in the possibility of the implausible, sweeping you up in the moment. Here, things seem to happen more because the script requires them to happen, and credulity is strained long before the film’s conclusion.

What’s ultimately most disappointing about Meet John Doe is how much of a Capra pastiche it feels like, with the only problem being that it was actually made by the man himself. It feels more like one of those bonus tracks included on a best-selling artist’s greatest hits album, sounding like all of the other tracks you know and love, without ever hitting quite as deep. As a piece of entertainment it’s perfectly competent, but most people go into a Capra film expecting more than that. If you showed Frank Capra’s other, better films to an A.I. and asked it to make a film in the style of Capra, Meet John Doe is exactly what you’d get.

I love the films of Frank Capra, and I’ll take a mediocre Capra film over the best works of most other filmmakers, but if I’m being honest with myself, this simply isn’t at the level he was operating at in this stage of his career.

Video: 3.5/5

3D Rating: NA

“Meet John Doe” is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this new edition from ClassicFlix.

First, the good: this is easily the best presentation of “Meet John Doe” ever released on a commercial home video format, easily surpassing decades’ worth of poor quality efforts (mostly from fly-by-night operations) comprised of nearly unwatchable standard definition transfers from terrible quality materials. Though ClassicFlix’s release is also a public domain one (the film itself is in the public domain, but Sony has chain-of-custody on the original elements, with the camera negative and other pre-print material held at UCLA), they have accessed the Library of Congress’ holdings, and per the title card appearing onscreen before the start of the film proper, spent over 400 hours performing digital cleanup and stabilization on the LOC material. The image is rock-steady, and they’ve done good work at matching up the different sources drawn upon to create what is mostly a consistent viewing experience.

But as the old saying goes, it’s impossible to make a silk purse out of sow’s ear, and the material that the Library of Congress had in their archives was not in the best state to begin with. Derived from prints and dupes, ClassicFlix has mostly been successful at bringing some life back to the image, and fortunately, they’ve retained a film-like look rather than overusing digital tools. But despite these efforts, there’s still a general lack of fine detail throughout, and attempts to correct inconsistent and poor contrast on the LOC holdings result in an image that at time brushes up against crushed blacks. There are also thin, unobtrusive vertical scratches running down the edges of the frame through most of the film; they don’t really detract from the presentation but are more noticeable on larger displays or in projection.

This is probably the very best a transfer based on the specific elements ClassicFlix had access to could ever look, and to reiterate an earlier point, is easily the best the film has ever looked on home video. But given that better elements exist, there’s potential for a better release if Sony were to ever tackle the project. Until then, this is the best the film has looked in decades.

Audio: 4/5

The film’s monaural audio track, presented via the lossless DTS-HD MA codec, generally fares better than the image quality, with the dialogue easily discernible and Tiomkin’s score blending in well to the sound design. While there is the occasional slight sonic imperfection, there’s nothing to detract from the overall experience, and I always prefer the choice to allow a film to retain those imperfections when the alternative is overusing digital tools to obliterate the characteristics of the original audio.

Optional English subtitles are also included.

Special Features: 1/5

Restoration Comparison (3:52) – This brief clip bounces back and forth between the raw scans of the Library of Congress material and the final product and the difference between the two is, more often than not, night and day. There’s not much context provided with the clips; an on-camera or voice-over explanation of what is being presented is sorely missed. It would have been interesting to hear firsthand what processes ClassicFlix employed to improve the image quality.

Overall: 3.5/5

Meet John Doe is more of a disposable, greatest hits reel version of a Frank Capra film, with the great director seeming more on autopilot. Capra doesn’t have much new to say with this film, but like the best artists, he still manages to say it pretty well. While this release from ClassicFlix isn’t quite pristine, due to the limitations of the materials they had to work with, it is still the best the film has ever looked and sounded on any home video format.

 

Josh’s fate as a physical media enthusiast was probably sealed the moment he figured out how to operate a top-loading VCR before he even knew how to walk. Since graduating with a degree in film production, he has enjoyed a career focused on the archival and distribution side of film and television. These days, Josh thinks of himself as a proud father of twins first. He would like to thank his wife for her unwavering support, and for every typo she’s ever caught.

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Josh Steinberg

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I hadn’t seen the film for many years and was definitely not expecting to feel this way when I sat down to review it.

I did a little poking around and I was surprised to see that some of the reviews from its original release felt the same in that Capra’s work with the actors and production were first rate but that the script wasn’t as good as on his then-recent pictures. Really wasn’t expecting that.

I still like it a lot, it’s just not my favorite as it turns out.
 

Adam Lenhardt

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Thanks for the review, and in particular the situation with the elements. I had been under the impression that the original camera negative was destroyed while in Goodwill Pictures's possession and that the Library of Congress negative from the seventies was the best surviving version of the picture.

Have you seen The Majestic, and if so, what did you think of it? It always felt to me like Frank Darabont's attempt at making a Capra picture, and tackling many of the same themes as this one: Damaged reputations, false identities, and simple clear American ideals set against cynical political ambition.
 

Josh Steinberg

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I had been under the impression that the original camera negative was destroyed while in Goodwill Pictures's possession and that the Library of Congress negative from the seventies was the best surviving version of the picture.

That’s what I had thought for the longest time as well - that was all anyone knew for the longest time and then Bob Furmanek found them abandoned in a vault in the 90s, I think that’s how that story goes.

Have you seen The Majestic, and if so, what did you think of it?

I have been meaning to for the longest time and it never quite happens and then I forget to remember. Thank you for the reminder, this time I’m gonna write it down.
 

Robert Crawford

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This morning, I watched the Blu-ray and I have to say that I'm happy with this Blu-ray release. Sure, if they had the OCN to work with, it could have looked and sounded better, but ClassicFlix didn't have the OCN to work with. With that said, what I watched this morning was a pleasant looking video presentation along with a good audio presentation that brought a smile to my face throughout the playing of the film. Yes, the video presentation is far from pristine. However, I'm still giving it 4 out 5 audio and video grades. It's a huge improvement over my 2001 DVD.

From the first time I watched this movie back in the 1960s on my parents old black and white TV set, it's been a favorite movie of mine with its message that is still relevant today and the acting performances of Cooper, Stanwyck, Brennan, Gleason, Arnold and Byington. IMO, Stanwyck gave one of her best acting performances in this movie. Performances like this one is the reason why she remains my all-time favorite actress. Furthermore, anybody that doesn't like this movie is a heelot. :) I'm just kidding because everyone is welcome to their opinion, but movies like "Meet John Doe" have always appealed to me even in my cynical old age in which I have serious doubts about the goodness in mankind.

Great job, ClassicFlix.
 

Richard M S

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I did a little poking around and I was surprised to see that some of the reviews from its original release felt the same in that Capra’s work with the actors and production were first rate but that the script wasn’t as good as on his then-recent pictures. Really wasn’t expecting that.
Oh bravo, that's the kind of research and insight that is so rare and it elevates the entire review. I too haven't seen Meet John Doe in decades, so I just ordered this new bluray based on this review.
 

Jeff Fearnside

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Well, I personally think this might be on a Mr. Deeds or Mr. Smith level, but if not, it's not off by much. But I'll watch anything with Cooper and Stanwyck in it, and to have them together is film heaven! This was a no-brainer pre-order for me. In fact, it's already here. Now to figure out where to wedge it into the viewing queue... I remember that atrocious old DVD. I have no doubt this Blu-ray will be leaps and bounds better. I appreciate reading everyone's comments on this film and transfer! Keep 'em coming, ClassicFlix!
 

roxy1927

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It's got one of the best endings and is often excerpted in various documentaries Stanwyck is at peak performance level in this scene and always reduces me to tears despite my cold atheistic heart. Even the woman who exclaims I believe 'Oh Mr Doe!' is a perfect touch.
 

ClassicFlix

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It's got one of the best endings and is often excerpted in various documentaries Stanwyck is at peak performance level in this scene and always reduces me to tears despite my cold atheistic heart. Even the woman who exclaims I believe 'Oh Mr Doe!' is a perfect touch.
I agree. It has the same emotional impact every time for me even though I've probably seen it at least 20 times during the restoration/QC process.

Also, the actress with the "perfect touch" is prolific character actress Ann Doran.

- David
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Robert Crawford

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I agree. It has the same emotional impact every time for me even though I've probably seen it at least 20 times during the restoration/QC process.

Also, the actress with the "perfect touch" is prolific character actress Ann Doran.

- David
ClassicFlix Founder, Producer
It’s funny she’s not given a screen credit for this film. A terrific character actress.
 

jim_falconer

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It's got one of the best endings and is often excerpted in various documentaries Stanwyck is at peak performance level in this scene and always reduces me to tears despite my cold atheistic heart. Even the woman who exclaims I believe 'Oh Mr Doe!' is a perfect touch.
Absolutely one of Capra’s best endings…and that is saying something!
Not my favorite Capra, but as Josh states in his review…made during his peak years (‘34-‘46), so it’s still pretty darn great
 

Jeff Fearnside

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This thread made me want to watch John Doe again, so my wife and I popped it in last night. The restoration was so good, it was like seeing the film for the first time! I thought they did a terrific job recreating the velvety look of nitrate prints. Probably because of this, I gained an upgraded appreciation for the film. Now I definitely rate it high in Capra's oeuvre. Both Cooper and especially Stanwyck are fantastic in it. And what a cast of supporting actors! My wife and I are now stoked to continue through the weekend with a theme of 1940s flicks from ClassicFlix, with Our Town, Life With Father, and Hi Diddle Diddle up next. Again, great work ClassicFlix!
 
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warnerbro

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Even after cleanup, the print has scratches and lines throughout -- almost every frame. Like the review says, it's probably the best we've seen it on home video. They've darkened it electronically which hides some of the damage. Thanks to Classic Flix for a beautiful job of trying to save a film that many people love.
 

ClassicFlix

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Even after cleanup, the print has scratches and lines throughout -- almost every frame. Like the review says, it's probably the best we've seen it on home video. They've darkened it electronically which hides some of the damage. Thanks to Classic Flix for a beautiful job of trying to save a film that many people love.
Yes, persistent scratches (along with severe warping/instability) were the two biggest challenges in our restoration of DOE. We were able to mitigate a vast majority of the scratches, but not all.

Also, the color grading performed (darkening it electronically as you put it) was not done for the purpose of hiding damage, but grading does have that effect on black dirt/scratches and at the same time typically makes white dirt/scratches more noticeable.

- David
ClassicFlix Founder, Producer
 
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Robert Crawford

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Yes, persistent scratches (along with severe warping/instability) were the two biggest challenges in our restoration of DOE. Were were able to mitigate a vast majority of the scratches, but not all.

Also, the color grading performed (darkening it electronically as you put it) was not done for the purpose of hiding damage, but grading does have that effect on black dirt/scratches and at the same time typically makes white dirt/scratches more noticeable.

- David
ClassicFlix Founder, Producer
You guys did alright especially without having the OCN to work from. I can finally watch this fine film without being distracted by a poor video presentation.
 

Jeff Fearnside

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You guys did alright especially without having the OCN to work from. I can finally watch this fine film without being distracted by a poor video presentation.
Agreed, though from my point of view, they did more than all right--I think given everything it's quite a fantastic restoration and presentation.
 
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