Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is a 1936 American screwball comedy film directed by Frank Capra, starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur in her first featured role. Based on the 1935 short story “Opera Hat” by Clarence Budington Kelland, which appeared in serial form in the Saturday Evening Post, the screenplay was written by Robert Riskin in his fifth collaboration with Frank Capra.
Jean Arthur as Louise “Babe” Bennett
Originally, Frank Capra intended to make Lost Horizon after Broadway Bill (1934), but lead actor Ronald Colman couldn’t get out of his other filming commitments. So Capra began adapting Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. The two main cast members, Gary Cooper as Longfellow Deeds and Jean Arthur as Louise “Babe” Bennett/Mary Dawson, were cast as production began. Capra’s “first, last and only choice” for the pivotal role of the eccentric Longfellow Deeds was Gary Cooper. Due to his other film commitments, production was delayed six months before Cooper was available, incurring costs of $100,000 for the delay in filming.
Arthur was not the first choice for the role, but Carole Lombard, the original female lead, “ankled” the film just three days before principal photography, in favor of a starring role in My Man Godfrey. The first scenes shot on the Fox Studios’ New England street “lot” were in place before Capra “discovered” his heroine in a rush screening. The opening sequences had to be reshot when Capra decided against the “broad” comedy approach that had originally been written.
Despite his penchant for coming in “under budget,” Capra spent an additional five shooting days in multiple takes, testing angles and “new” perspectives, treating the production as a type of workshop exercise. Due to the increased shooting schedule, the film came in at $38,936.00 more than the Columbia budget for a total of $806,774.00. Throughout the pre-production and the early principal photography, the project still retained Kelland’s original title, Opera Hat, although Capra tried out some other titles including A Gentleman Goes to Town and Cinderella Man before settling on a name that was the winning entry in a contest held by the Columbia Pictures publicity department.