Blowing Out The Moral Lights Meets John Doe
Meet John Doe is a Frank Capra film released in spring of 1941. I caught part of it tonight on television and as I watched it, I thought that Capra’s warning about fascism with its themes of media dishonesty and manipulation, has many applications for today. Meet John Doe is now in the public domain, and if you haven’t seen it recently, you can watch it on the web. Here is Part 1. As the film opens, the words “A free press for a free people” are being chiseled off a building.
In Part 10, Henry Connell sits in a bar with John Doe and warns him that the newspaper publisher, D. B. Norton, is using him to get into the White House–and blow out the moral lights.
CONNELL: Yessir. I’m a sucker for this country. I’m a sucker for the Star Spangled Banner—and I’m a sucker for this country. I like what we got here! I like it! A guy can say what he wants—and do what he wants—without having a bayonet shoved through his belly. Now, that’s all right, isn’t it?
JOHN: You betcha.
CONNELL: All right. And we don’t want anybody coming around changing it, do we?
JOHN: No, sir.
CONNELL: No, sir. And when they do I get mad! I get b-boiling mad. And right now, John, I’m sizzling! I get mad for a lot of other guys besides myself—I get mad for a guy named Washington! And a guy named Jefferson—and Lincoln. Lighthouses, John! Lighthouses in a foggy world! You know what I mean?
JOHN: Yeah, you bet!
CONNELL: Listen, pal—this fifth column stuff’s pretty rotten, isn’t it?
JOHN: Yeah. It certainly is.
CONNELL: And you’d feel like an awful sucker if you found yourself marching right in the middle of it, wouldn’t you? And you, of course you wouldn’t know it because you’re gentle. But that’s what you’re doing. You’re mixed up with a skunk, my boy, a no-good, dangerous skunk!
JOHN: Say, you’re not talking about Mr. Norton, are you?
CONNELL: I’m not talking about his grandfather’s pet poodle!
JOHN: You must be wrong, Mr. Connell, ’cause he’s been marvelous about the John Doe Clubs.
CONNELL: Yeah? Say, you’re sold on the John Doe idea, aren’t you?
CONNELL: Sure. I don’t blame you. So am I. It’s a beautiful miracle. A miracle that could only happen right here in the good old U.S.A. And I think it’s terrific! What do you think of that! Me! Hard-boiled Connell! I think it’s plenty terrific!
All right! Now, supposing a certain unmentionable worm, whose initials are D. B., was trying to use that to shove his way into the White House. So he could put the screws on, so he could turn out the lights in those lighthouses. What would you say about that? Huh?
Introduction to this series, with Lincoln’s words about blowing out the moral lights: