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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Not Rated  |   |  Drama  |  19 October 1939 (USA)
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Ratings: 8.3/10 from 72,006 users  
Reviews: 239 user | 92 critic

A naive man is appointed to fill a vacancy in the US Senate. His plans promptly collide with political corruption, but he doesn't back down.



(screen play), (story), 1 more credit »
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Top Rated Movies #126 | Won 1 Oscar. Another 4 wins & 11 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Chick McGann
Ma Smith
Senate Majority Leader
President of the Senate
Astrid Allwyn ...
Susan Paine
Ruth Donnelly ...
Mrs. Hopper
Senator MacPherson
Porter Hall ...
Senator Monroe
Larry Simms ...
Hopper Boy (as Baby Dumpling)


Naive and idealistic Jefferson Smith, leader of the Boy Rangers, is appointed on a lark by the spineless governor of his state. He is reunited with the state's senior senator--presidential hopeful and childhood hero, Senator Joseph Paine. In Washington, however, Smith discovers many of the shortcomings of the political process as his earnest goal of a national boys' camp leads to a conflict with the state political boss, Jim Taylor. Taylor first tries to corrupt Smith and then later attempts to destroy Smith through a scandal. Written by James Yu <jamestyu@ccwf.cc.utexas.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Romance, drama, laughter and heartbreak ... created out of the very heart and soil of America ... by a great director and cast! See more »




Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

19 October 1939 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington  »

Box Office


$1,500,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (TV)

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The ending of the film was severely cut following previews. Originally, there was a protracted denouncement. Following Smith's collapse on the Senate floor, there were several scenes showing his triumphant return to his home state. He and Saunders are given a parade, the political machine of James Taylor is dismantled, Smith visits Senator Paine at home and forgives him, and there is a reunion with Ma Smith and her blessing given to Saunders as a daughter-in-law. Two brief shots of parades are seen in the trailer. See more »


Jeff Smith is accused of putting forward his bill on Boys Camp for his own benefit, as the supposed owner of the land on which the two contending bills lay claim. Yet if he did own this land and was concerned about selling it overpriced "at $500 an acre", he would in fact support the bill backed by the corrupt Senators, since he would make a profit from the sale of "his" land whatever the State decided to build there, Boys Camp or a dam. See more »


Senate Minority Leader, Barnes: [Watches as Smith reads a note passed to him from the gallery] Does the gentleman wish to yield?
Jefferson Smith: Yield? Oh, no. I feel fine! The Constitution of the United States!
[Barnes throws both hands high in the air, turns away from Smith, then brings his arms down hard on his desk in frustration]
See more »


Referenced in Jeopardy!: Episode #26.88 (2010) See more »


Battle Hymn of the Republic
(ca 1856) (uncredited)
Music by William Steffe
In the score when Smith is at the Lincoln Memorial
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Required viewing for anyone elected or appointed for public office.
2 June 1999 | by (South Jersey, USA) – See all my reviews

Since the beginning of the art form, movies have generally fallen into two categories: the realistic, and the fantastic (fantasy-based). There are some that point out that the films of Frank Capra unduly fall into the latter, that they are completely far-fetched and fastened in their own time, and even invented a pejorative term "Capra-esque" to describe any non-cynical, heartwarming picture that has a message. His great films, like It Happened One Night, It's a Wonderful Life, and of course, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, however, are not fixed in a single era, but all eras, the truest definition of a classic. And considering it was released among true powerhouses in 1939, a year as important to movies as 1998 was to baseball, its ideals, story, and general excellence shine as bright today as it did over 60 years ago.

A Senator from an unnamed, middle America state dies and a new one must be appointed by Governor Hubert Hopper, a puppet whose strings are held by newspaper magnate Jim Taylor. They need to find one that would be easily controlled by the now-senior Senator Joseph Paine (played brilliantly by Claude Rains), so a bill allowing a building of a dam near land by the Willett Creek owned by Taylor can pass in the Senate. After his initial choice is rejected by Taylor, and Taylor's handpicked man is shot down by the public, the governor chooses Jefferson Smith, played to perfection by James Stewart, a boy scout leader and local hero who is both wholly idealistic in his patriotism for America but naive and blind to the actual process. After he gets embarrassed by the local print media, Mr. Smith begins to learn the harsh realities of DC. Paine, Smith's boyhood hero, takes him under his wing and suggests that Smith try to create a bill. Smith agrees, and with his assistant, Clarissa Saunders (played by Jean Arthur), they create a bill to create a campground for boys from all over the country to learn about each other and the civic process, much to the initial dissuasion by Saunders. Smith then wants to choose a site near the Willett Creek, the same site where the dam is to be built and when his superiors and true string-pullers find that out, major complications ensue.

Although the basic premise is David vs. Goliath, the story is wholly originally and was probably one of the earliest pictures to suggest the government as corrupt. The characters are played excellently by all principal actors, with Mr. Smith you root for whole-heartedly, Mr. Taylor you root against for his sheer arrogance and greed, and Mr. Paine, who you pity as you see a man who lost his initial zest to serve the public and is now a jaded shell of his former self. A great performance was given by Harry Carey, Sr., who plays the Vice President/President of the Senate for comic relief. The lines where completely believable and the parts of Smith's final filibuster that were shown give the most impact. There is a beautifully shot scene with images of the monuments and sights of Washington with several national anthems synchronized as the score. The climax is as tension-packed as drama can get, and while the ending may seem rather sudden, and everything isn't completely or neatly resolved, it works perfectly and ends the movie on a happy note.

Obviously, few if any people elected to public office has the moral character, conviction, and general good heartedness of Jefferson Smith, and I doubt whether the government would be better if it was. The movie showed an ideal, a supposed "lost cause" of truth in government. And although it is next to impossible for Capra and the eternal good guy Jimmy Stewart to ever fully change the world of politics with just a motion picture, at least it shows that maybe once in a great while, being the good guy has its definite rewards. If (using the same analogy of the 1998 baseball season) The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind were the Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa of 1939 moviemaking, then this would be like Cal Ripken voluntarily ending his Iron Man Streak, something done with full class and the highest respect in mind, and that elevates an ideal of being the good guy and sticking to your dedication brings the greatest of riches. This picture is flawless in all respects and a true classic, with thought-provoking ideas, wit, a little bit of platonic romance, and an excellent cinematography and score, and deserves the rank as a 10 out of 10. And in giving this rating, either I'm damn right or I'm crazy.

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people have gone over this but still didn't explain it. mrwnmero
Sentimentalist rubbish siluad2
Jefferson Smith: liberal or conservative gbromberg
Mr Smith punching people? luks-11
Would like to see a colorized version of this film cadams-5
I don't understand something... Angel_Buffy
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