Review: Walter Lang’s “The Magnificent Dope,” Starring Henry Fonda and Don Ameche

Edward Everett Horton, Henry Fonda, and Don Ameche in
Edward Everett Horton, Henry Fonda, and Don Ameche in "The Magnificent Dope"

A riff on Frank Capra’s filmic conflicts of simple small town folks versus big city corruption, The Magnificent Dope may not have Capra’s heart, but is still plenty entertaining thanks to a reliable cast.

Dwight Dawson (Don Ameche) runs a struggling series of self-improvement courses for businessmen, in which he claims that for eighty dollars he can turn any loser into a top-notch executive. To prove it, Dawson sets out on a publicity campaign to find and successfully take the biggest dope in the country through the course. Enter Thadeus Winship Page (Henry Fonda), who wins the contest but has little interest in taking the course, having only entered for the five hundred dollars Dawson was also offering; he’s perfectly happy back home in Vermont with his boat renting business, and has no interest in becoming a New York businessman. But he sticks around for one reason—he falls for Claire Harris (Lynn Bari), Dawson’s fiancée and the one who came up with the contest in the first place.

It hits many of the same beats as both Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington do, and although it feels staler than those films, Fonda is perfect as the small-town guy who ends up teaching the New Yorkers a thing or two. Ameche and Bari are both good, but the secret weapon of the film is Edward Everett Horton as Dawson’s business partner—the film’s biggest laughs come just from his reaction shots. The Magnificent Dope ends on an admirably cheerful note, and has a decent number of laughs, but the assembled cast still deserves better material.

Where to Watch

Buy it on DVD

For More on The Magnificent Dope

Read the review in The New York Times