Like Longfellow Deeds on whom he is based, Louis Shvoois is an innocent, an idealist, an outsider who lives in a small town far away from the bright lights of New York City in the 1930’s. In a counterfactual world in which there are no Jewish people in New York City, Louis learns one quiet day in the tiny village of East Jesus, Long Island that he has inherited twenty million dollars from an obscure uncle. He goes to New York with his best friend Duvid (like Long John Willoughby of Meet John Doe Louis has a sidekick who is also his good conscience) to claim his fortune, determined to do some good with his newfound wealth. Louis also has a wise old rabbi who pops up every now and again to remind him of the proper Talmudic course of action as he negotiates the cultural and political gauntlet of Depression era Manhattan.
When Louis gets to NYC, Debbie Sunday, ace Reporter for The New York Daily Noise, insinuates herself into his company to get his exclusive story. The two meet in the Little Pinko Café in Greenwich Village,a hotbed of social agitation. Pretending to be down and out, Debbie gets Louis’ sympathy and takes him slumming in the Village. She lures him to a protest rally for a jailed cabbie (Lefty), which is broken up violently by the the New York City Police. Embarrassing and inflamatory pictures and stories about Louis appear the next morning in the New York Daily Noise. Instead of getting caught up in high society like Longfellow Deeds, Louis is getting caught up in low society, the world of the desperate, determined Forgotten Man. After all he’s Jewish.
Bedford Stuyvesant, patrician lawyer for Louis’ dead uncle, wants to keep control of Louis’money. He brings Louis to his office and warns him to stay away from social subversives, telling him his new wealth is a great responsibility.
But Smokey McGillicutty, Debbie Sunday’s firebreathing editor at the New York Daily Noise wants more. Debbie offers to take Louis out to “paint the town red.” They end up at a strike meeting outside the Downtown Cab company where a riot ensues. More mayhem. More photos of Louis in the press. But a strong connection has begun to develop between Louis and Debbie that surprises them both: an honest, idealistic young man and a tough working girl who has grown tired of the city’s cynicism. Like all good Hollywood romances, this one has two strikes against it and a screwball coming right down the pike.
As Louis and Debbie wander home through the early morning streets of the city, they are confronted by a desperate cabbie. Out on strike and starving, he pulls a gun on Louis and recklessly threatens him He chastises Louis for not using his money to help peope. Scared by this encounter, Louis forms a plan.
The next day finds Louis, Duvid and Debbie giving away Louis’ fortune to striking cabbies so they can buy their own cabs and their own cab licenses and go to work for themselves in defiance of the cab company and the social order in general. At The New York Daily Noise, Smokey McGillicutty is outraged. In his law offices, Bedford Stuyvsant is outraged. He makes plans to put Louis on trial as a dangerous revolutionary. He hopes to take Louis’ inheritance for himself. Out of guilt and love for Louis, Debbie Sunday quits her job at the New York Daily Noise, but too late. At the trial her involvement with the news accounts of Louis’ exploits comes out. Louis goes into a deep depression. A hostile world has turned on him,and the girl he loves has betrayed him. The trumped-up case against him builds towards a guilty verdict.
Until Louis discovers how much Debbie Sunday really loves him. Finally he rallies to his own defense, revealing his decidedly unorthodox but essentially goodhearted views on religion and society. Brilliantly he wins the day in court and gets the girl in a classic Hollywood ending.
A Jew From East Jesus examines the classic Capra genre, a love
story set against a background of social protest, and digs beneath the surface
to find the great themes of Jewish American culture.