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The Untold Truth Of Mr. Deeds

If you look up the expression "mixed bag" in the dictionary, one of its definitions could be the filmography of Adam Sandler. The comedy powerhouse has delivered timeless gems such as "Billy Madison" and "Happy Gilmore." On the other side of the same coin, Sandler has also flopped at the box office with features like "Jack and Jill" and "You Don't Mess with the Zohan." Equally, the actor's dramatic roles carry their own bell curve of critical reception, ranging from the often-forgotten "Bulletproof" to the widely adored "Uncut Gems." Smack dab in the middle of these four polarities of Sandler-related laughs and eyerolls is one film — "Mr. Deeds."

Released in 2002, "Mr. Deeds" is a fitting addition to the Happy Madison Productions collection. The story centers around Sandler as the titular Deeds who inherits a massive fortune from a long-lost relative. The plot thickens as Deeds moves to New York and becomes entwined with an undercover journalist, played by Winona Ryder, who falls for the new billionaire despite her original plan to use him for her next big story.

Contrary to the mixed reviews, "Mr. Deeds" was a financial success and remains a staple of the ever-expanding assortment of Adam Sandler movies. Nevertheless, as we look back at the feature 20 years later, there are many details about the film that most fans do not know. Continue reading to learn the untold truth of the gently naive Longfellow Deeds and his New York City adventure into maladjustment.

The classic source material

Adam Sandler's harshest critics might say a lot of things about the ex-"SNL" standout, and many of those things might be totally accurate. But nobody can accuse him of producing a ton of sequels or remakes, which sets him apart from pretty much everybody else in Hollywood. With rare exceptions, Sandler movies generally offer an original story, but one of those rare exceptions is definitely "Mr. Deeds." In the case of "Mr. Deeds," the plot is more-or-less plucked from the Frank Capra classic "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town." As Sandler explained to Tribute, the 1936 comedy-romance was one of his grandmother's favorite films, and following his father's wishes, he was happy to make his version of the old picture starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur.

While adapting the classic was very much at the forefront of the production and marketing of "Mr. Deeds," it is still considered a loose interpretation. Capra's "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" was a significant success, spawning its own television series, and its planned sequel evolved into "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" during the planning stages. Further, the original film was itself an adaptation of a 1935 short story titled "Opera Hat" by the self-proclaimed "best second-rate writer in America," Clarence Budington Kelland.

Winona Ryder's felony charges

Following her breakout film "Beetlejuice" in 1988, Winona Ryder become one of the quintessential movie stars of her generation. Best known today for her role in Netflix's "Stranger Things," Ryder spent the '90s routinely starring in blockbusters like "Edward Scissorhands" and "Bram Stoker's Dracula," as well as dramatic hits like Reality Bites" and "Girl, Interrupted." However, she landed in some legal and PR hot water during the marketing phase of "Mr. Deeds."

As reported by the New York Daily News, Ryder was arrested by Beverly Hills cops in 2001 for shoplifting an estimated $5000 worth of merchandise from Saks Fifth Avenue. According to US Weekly, the grand theft felony charges landed Ryder probation, community service, fines, as well as court-ordered psychological and drug counselling. However, as Ryder later reflected on the difficult time with Interview Magazine, the process gifted the actress a perspective shift that helped her rediscover her passion for acting. Ryder's career slowed down for a few years following the Saks fiasco, but she regained her Hollywood icon status by the end of the 2000s. 

Sandler's superstar friends

It seems that if you want to make it in Hollywood, it helps to become friends with Adam Sandler. Say what you will about the actor, he takes care of his friends. With a comfortable predictability, you can watch any of Sandler's comedy films and see some recognizable faces. There is a long list of celebrity names who have talked about Sandler's valuable friendship, including Jennifer Aniston, David Spade, and Kevin James. Sandler presumably has a bursting phonebook of friends he can call upon to take spots in his films, and "Mr. Deeds" is no exception.

The cast list for "Mr. Deeds" features many names that Sandler had worked with previously. Starting in the writer's room, Sandler has collaborated with long-time writing partner Tim Herlihy on over a dozen projects. In the director's chair there's Steven Brill, who owes a handful of credits to Sandler projects. Meanwhile, the cast is loaded with Sandler picture repeats, including Allen Covert, Peter Dante, Steve Buscemi, Blake Clark, and others. Sandler's tradition of casting familiar faces is not one he anticipates ending soon, as Variety recently reported he intends to cast his entire family in an upcoming feature.

Rob Schneider's Big Daddy character

Regarding Adam Sandler's cast list of friends, one actor who has shared the screen with the comedian in more films than anybody is Rob Schneider. The pair have collaborated on so many projects there is an IMDb page dedicated to the combo. All told, the duo shares credits in 18 different films beyond their work together on "Saturday Night Live" in the '90s. Needless to say, nobody was surprised to find Rob Schneider makes an appearance in "Mr. Deeds." Although, with such a small role in the film, it is easy to overlook the significance of Schneider's appearance.

It would take an astute Sandler fan to notice that Rob Schneider is dressed and performing as one of his previous characters — Nazo, previously seen in another Sandler film, "Big Daddy." The delivery driver-slash-part-time babysitter who cannot read the word "hippopotamus" makes a couple of brief appearances in "Mr. Deeds." This is not even close to the only time characters have crossed over in Happy Madison features and is one of many signs of a potential Sandler cinematic universe. The "Sandlerverse" is a concept that the comedic filmmaker more-or-less confirmed in a Yahoo Entertainment interview.

John McEnroe's friendship with Adam Sandler

Further connecting the dots of the potential "Sandlerverse" is the biggest sports-related namedrop from "Mr. Deeds," John McEnroe. The legendary tennis star makes his big screen debut in "Mr. Deeds," embarking upon a long night of drunken gallivanting with the title character. Meanwhile in the real world, Sandler and McEnroe struck up a friendship that would see them partner up multiple times.

The seven-time Grand Slam champion has appeared in plenty of television programs throughout the years, including "30 Rock," "Saturday Night Live," and "Frasier." Still, his big screen credits highlight an ongoing friendship with Sandler. McEnroe followed up his performance in "Mr. Deeds" by once again appearing as himself in 2003's "Anger Management," and later cameoed in both "You Don't Mess with the Zohan" and "Jack and Jill." Reversely, McEnroe later brought Sandler into his own realm when they teamed up for a celebrity doubles match against Kevin James and Jim Courier at a U.S. Open exhibition in 2012.

The part of the butler was written specifically for John Turturro

While Adam Sandler loves to hook up his close friends with work in his films, the producer also has a knack for landing big names. Whether it be Bob Barker's appearance in "Happy Gilmore" or the unexpected arrival of Billy Idol in "The Wedding Singer," Sandler frequently manages to pull top talent. In the case of "Mr. Deeds," the cast list is one of Happy Madison Productions' most impressive. "Mr. Deeds" is loaded with recognizable stars such as Peter Gallagher and Harve Presnell. But there was one actor that Sandler and director Steven Brill wanted to work with specifically, John Turturro.

Coming off memorable performances in Coen Brothers' hits "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "The Big Lebowski," Turturro had built a considerable name for himself by the early 2000s. For Sandler and Brill, it meant they wanted the prolific character actor to play the part of Emilio the Butler. As explained in a Tribute interview, Sandler went all out by writing the role specifically for Turturro before the actor agreed to be in the movie. Steven Brill told My Movies that they tried to make the part more enticing by making him a dignified Spanish character who turns out to be a hero by the end of the movie. Of course, keeping with tradition, Turturro would return to later Sandler films, including "You Don't Mess with the Zohan" and "The Ridiculous 6."

The man who yells School is for Fools is a New York legend

If you think you spotted legendary comedian Robin Williams making a cameo in "Mr. Deeds," you are not the only one. In reality, the man who tells a couple of kids that "school is for fools" during Sandler and Ryder's characters' date scene is something of a movie star himself.

Craig Castaldo, commonly known as Radioman after the cumbersome cassette player he wears around his neck, is a legend around New York City for his knowledge of the ins and outs of film locations across the metropolitan area. Through luck or determination, the usually disheveled individual has managed to make an appearance in over 100 films and television shows. Most notably, Castaldo had a recurring speaking role on "30 Rock." Other Radioman credits include "Spider-Man," "Shutter Island," "Godzilla," and "Zoolander." Subsequently, the self-made movie star received his own documentary released in 2012. Once again, Radioman landed himself in a big-budget Hollywood film with his credited speaking role in "Mr. Deeds" after his scenes were delated from a previous Sandler flick, "Little Nicky."

Winona Ryder broke her arm on set

Winona Ryder faced some complex challenges while filming and marketing "Mr. Deeds." The celebrated actress has been in some stressful roles throughout her illustrious career, yet it would be "Mr. Deeds" that broke her ... literally. As Ryder later detailed in an interview with W Magazine, despite her early ambitions of becoming a professional skateboarder, she didn't break a bone until filming "Mr. Deeds."

The mishap occurred while Ryder and Sandler were shooting scenes riding bikes through Central Park. A mixture of showboating and improper footwear caused Ryder to take a nasty tumble. Despite the pain, it would be another day of filming before Ryder sought medical attention. Complicating matters even further, Ryder broke the same appendage again shortly before the film's release. As reported by Entertainment Weekly, she was struck by a camera in a media frenzy during her shoplifting hearing. And as Sandler would later describe the injury to Entertainment Tonight, it was coincidentally close to the original fracture.

Winona Ryder's character name has multiple secret meanings

Besides the rotating roster of celebrity cameos, there is another tradition in Adam Sandler movies carried on with "Mr. Deeds." This ongoing gag has to do with the female leads in a collection of Sandler films sharing the same initials — V.V. As first caught by Reddit user Heisenbro3556, there is Veronica Vaughn in "Billy Madison" all the way up to Violet Valentine in "Hubie Halloween" – coincidentally, both played by Julie Bowen — with plenty of examples of leading ladies playing characters with the same initials in between.

The trend is not entirely consistent in every one of Sandler's films; Winona Ryder's character's name in "Mr. Deeds" is Babe Bennett, which is close enough that it deserves mentioning. Additionally, the name is carried on from the original "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," as Jean Arthur's character's full name in that film is Louise "Babe" Bennett. Whether the pattern of alliterative character names is coincidental, intentional, or some mix of the two, the irony is not lost on fans.

It earned multiple Razzie nominations

Adam Sandler is no stranger to the Golden Raspberry Awards. According to these statistics from Bonus, the actor is one of the top nominated and top all-time winning performers at the Razzies. Meanwhile, his film "Jack and Jill" maintains the records for most nominations (12) and wins (10) in a single year. However, in the case of "Mr. Deeds," expectations were much higher for the film to receive a positive critical reception.

Although "Mr. Deeds" can be deemed a financial win, bringing in $171.3 million, it was generally panned by critics. The gamble of remaking a beloved classic from one of Hollywood's most celebrated directors backfired for Sandler and company. While winning the year's Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Award for best actor, Sandler received the worst actor nomination at the Razzies. Additionally, co-star Winona Ryder was nominated for worst actress, and the film was selected as one of the year's worst remakes of sequels. Thankfully, Madonna and Britney Spears were busy cleaning up at the Razzies for their films "Swept Away" and "Crossroads."

Adam Sandler's blatant product placement

If there is one thing that Adam Sandler loves to put in his movies more than his celebrity friends, it is shameless product placement. There are plenty of filmmakers that will take payment to include particular brands or advertisements as a way of generating additional revenue. However, nobody does product placement as brazenly as Sandler. A supercut of all the placements in his movies created by Laser Time illuminates just how gratuitous Sandler's inclusion of fast-food chains and junk food brands can be at times.

Where "Happy Gilmore" went all out creating a Subway commercial within the film and "The Water Boy" made "Gatorade" a meme-able phrase before memes were a thing, "Mr. Deeds" is not innocent of the same blatancy. Hungry on a flight to New York from Deeds' hometown of Mandrake Falls, the sudden billionaire requests a pit stop at a Wendy's, which entails the helicopter and his escorts landing within the establishment's parking lot. While Sandler's character rattles off the names of some of Wendy's top sellers, it is hard not to ignore the superfluous nature of the entire scene.

The onscreen impact of September 11

A significant part of "Mr. Deeds" is showcasing one of the greatest cities in the world. With quotes like "I love New York" and fashionable shots of Central Park at night, the city is its own character within the film. It was a timely love letter to a metropolis that had just faced its most devastating blow mere months before the movie was released in June of 2002.

After the shocking terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Hollywood scrambled to remove any semblance of the towers from upcoming movies hoping to avoid striking a raw wound on the city's residents. As detailed by Media Play News, films like "Spider-Man" and "Zoolander" set the standard early by removing scenes and visuals of the Twin Towers from trailers and reshooting entire scenes. "Mr. Deeds" was one of more than a dozen movies and TV shows to digitally remove the World Trade Center buildings from any shots of the city in the background, avoiding any connection to the horrific attacks.