Lionel Barrymore, crusading attorney from the sticks, takes on the bosses of his home state and wins election as Senator. This movie asks the question: "Can an honest man go to Washington and keep his integrity intact?" Since this is the early 30s (and pre Code), the answer to the question manages to be both downbeat and unrealistic. Also, the politics of our hero really is straight Huey P. Long (with a touch of Perry Mason). This makes watching this film at times a touch unpleasant. The railing against bosses and big corporate interests is both shrill and unspecific. But the moral smugness throughout is unmistakable.
The interesting thing here is the performance by Lionel Barrymore, which is far better than his norm. The character here feels real, even when he is spouting the populist nonsense of the day. Perhaps Barrymore intends him to seem a bit of a fraud? Lionel even gets a romantic scene with the Washington hostess who is trying to seduce him. (Bigger surprise -- the scene is actually sexy, and Lionel is credible in it.) Watch the film for the surprise Barrymore performance, and also for a sense that there were political films before Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. But not for the rather blah plot.
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