Gary Cooper created his most classically chivalrous comic character as Longfellow Deeds, the big-hearted small-town hero who inherits a fortune and tries to use it for the greater good in Frank Capra's "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (1936). Capra made Cooper's Mr. Deeds and his pals in Mandrake Falls, N.H., honest and reticent to a fault, and eccentric in endearing ways, to contrast starkly with the fast-talking city slickers who discredit the hero and swindle him. But there's genuine romantic magic, as well as savvy satire, in Deeds' attachment to Babe Bennett ( Jean Arthur), an ambitious New York reporter. She comes on to him incognito, as a fellow babe in the woods, filing stories that depict him as a clueless rube - until conscience, and love, get the better of her.
Capra and his screenwriter, Robert Riskin, know how cutthroat dailies swing between skewering celebrities and fawning over them, but they are evenhanded enough to give their press corps the camaraderie of honor among thieves. Cooper's innate elegance takes the edge off Deeds' propensity to sock show-offs and pretenders in the nose. And Capra makes you nostalgic for the time when mass comedy could be delicately calibrated, with gags building from scene to scene and within each scene. The director balances the climactic courtroom sequence beautifully between broad strokes and uproarious gestures. It's a high point of American populist comedy.
"Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" screens at 4:30 p.m. today,12:30 p.m. Saturday,5:45 p.m. Sunday and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the AFI Silver, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. Call 301-495-6700 or go to afi.com/silver.
Jeff Bridges' Early Greatness at Charles: This week, the Charles gives audiences the chance to sample Jeff Bridges' current best - his Oscar-nominated lead performance in "Crazy Heart" - as well as his early peak: his embodiment of confused, youthful machismo in "The Last Picture Show" (1971), the current entry in the Charles' revival series, Peter Bogdanovich's adaptation of Larry McMurtry's novel about coming of age (or not) in a small Texas town. As Duane, the football player whose love for the shallow beauty Jacy ( Cybill Shepherd) wreaks havoc on his best-friendship with Timothy Bottoms' good-hearted Sonny (who also loves Jacy), Bridges is in turn infectiously affable, alarmingly crude, abashed and swaggering. His easy excellence in the role earned him his first Academy Award nomination, for best supporting actor.
"The Last Picture Show" screens at noon Saturday, 7 p.m. Monday and 9 p.m. Thursday. The Charles is at 1711 N. Charles; call 410-727-FILM or go to thecharles.com.
Steamboy at Towson: "Steamboy," Katsuhiro ("Akira") Otomo's ambitious cartoon sci-fi epic set in 1866 England, begins Towson University's spring-semester monthly series of anime milestones. This one features a young hero from Manchester whose father hopes to use "the Steam Tower" at the Great Exhibition in London to sell Victorian-era weapons of mass destruction - steam-powered but potent. Encouraged by his grandfather, the boy tries to thwart his father and, yes, "Scarlett O'Hara," his dad's slippery American partner. Fanatically detailed chases and decor abound, along with the eclectic cultural references.
"Steamboy" screens at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Van Bokkelen Hall Auditorium. Admission is free. A Towson faculty member will lead a post-screening discussion. Go to towson.edu/emf.
Lemonade at Windup Space: The Contemporary Museum and Slant Six Creative launch the Second Shore film series with the 2009 documentary "Lemonade." Based on the principle "if they give you lemons, make lemonade," the film follows 16 contemporary ad men who bounce back from being fired. One becomes a Tour de France cyclist, another a yoga instructor, and another, naturally, a blogger.
The movie screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Windup Space, 12 W. North Ave.. An $8 contribution is suggested to support the continuation of the film series. Go to thewindupspace.com.