Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington shows junior senator Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) arriving in Washington, D.C. full of plans and idealism, which he retains despite widespread corruption among his cynical colleagues. Jean Arthur puts in a sharp performance as Smith’s streetwise secretary, who helps him navigate his way through Congress, in this Academy Award-winning classic from director Frank Capra. The story is about a naive young man with no political knowledge or experience (beyond memorizing the speeches of Jefferson and Lincoln), and therefore harmless to the political fat cats, who underestimate him. His idealism makes him a hero. Today the Senate might operate a bit differently, but the classic David vs. Goliath struggle here is played perfectly. Jimmy Stewart never gave a bad performance. Jean Authur – you will be in love with her at the end of this movie. The Press Corps – led by wonderful veteran character actor Thomas Mitchell combine with the other elements in this movie to move the story forward and draw the audience in as in few other films. You may know some of the actors who were also in Frank Capra’s next movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. This film also stars Jimmy Stewart (Jeff Smith), Beulah Bondi (Ma Bailey) as his mother, Thomas Mitchell (Uncle Billy) as a cynical, drunken reporter, and H.B. Warner (Mr. Gower the druggist) as the leader of the Senate. Harry Carey Sr. as the VP or president of the Senate is outstanding and warm. Claude Rains plays a good man who has been corrupted by the Senate. The good and evil here are as black and white as the cinematography, but rarely has a director pulled it off so convincingly and so unabashedly. But the movie is not a political statement so much as it is a wonderful, romantic, idealistic, sometimes humorous, always faithful look at why America exists. Cynics may try to dismiss Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as overly romantic, sentimental fluff, but that would also dismiss the emotional power and grandeur of faith and hope. Yes, it is oversimplified and yes James Stewart’s dramatic filibuster in the Senate chambers would never happen in the real world. But Mr. Smith gets to the heart of us as American people with the simple words of an American president–government by the people and for the people. If we have gotten away from that so much that we despise Mr. Smith Goes to Washington for its simplicity, we have gotten away from the hope and faith of what it means to be an American, the hope and faith that human beings have died to defend. I still get chills as the camera follows idealistic and innocent Stewart as he visits the great monuments to Liberty sprinkled around D.C. I remember the thrill and the pride in what was sacrificed for the ideals that inspire us today. Capra touches base with the good parts and the important parts of American character in this fine film. We have forgotten it at times and we have not lived up to it at times. But the thing with hope is that you start all over again tomorrow, trying to do the best you can for all people. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington may very well be a film to watch again and again as we endeavor to choose a new president to represent the American character and hope for the future. Watch this wonderful view on what our democracy is supposed to be all about. If everyone watched this, we might hold some of those yahoos in Washington today to account for not behaving better. We’ve watched this movie countless times over the years and each time we do, I wish I could make all our congressmen & senators sit down for two hours in one room and watch this movie. For anyone soured by today’s politics and the way that Congress is controlled by big money, you need to watch this. Back in 1939 (and earlier), what we find corrupt and lacking in principles in Congress, was pretty much the same. That’s why I think this movie should be required viewing for everyone who takes a high school civics class. We need more Jeff Smith’s ideals in this country. Watch and enjoy the best American Political drama ever made! Drama 1939 NR 129 minutes.


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