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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 72,016 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


Stirring - In the seeing! Precious - In the remembering! 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 state that Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) and Sen. Joseph Harrison Paine (Claude Rains) come from is never mentioned. See more »


Under the Standing Rules of the Senate governing debate, Senator Paine would not technically have been allowed to attack Senator Smith's character and accuse him of graft. The rule states: "No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator." See more »


Senator Joseph Paine: He can raise public opinion against us - if any part of this sticks...
James Taylor: Aah, he'll never get started. I'll make public opinion out there within five hours! I've done it all my life. I'll blacken this punk so that he'll - You leave public opinion to me. Now, Joe, I think you'd better go back into the Senate and keep those Senators lined up.
See more »


Featured in Precious Images (1986) See more »


O Bury Me Not On the Lone Prairie
Traditional cowboy song
In the score when Smith and Paine reminisce, and later when Smith is at the Lincoln Memorial at night
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

drifts in and out of comedy and sincerity with the greatest of ease
20 May 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

It was a lot of fun watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in a class where the professor noted how this was the sort of film that was of historical importance while not taking itself too seriously. And I think that's the way Frank Capra wanted it, in a sense. Perhaps in the time of 1939 America this film was seen as being of merit to the American Government's due (though according to the trivia, it was denounced at showing corruption and even banned for showing how democracy "works"). But the director is also wanting to make an entertaining movie, of the kind of Hollywood appeal that brings 8-to-80 years olds in attendance. What had me interested throughout, particularly in that climactic, rousing twenty-minute sequence in the Senate with Jimmy Stewart's constant, un-faltering filibuster, is how it really is a patriotic kind of bravura to be shown on the screen. Here is how it SHOULD be done, to an extreme perhaps, in getting things done in government. But at the same time, Capra keeps it entirely watchable with that group of kids up on the balcony, keeping the audience laughing and smiling all the way through the great lines that Stewart says. "Great principles don't get lost once they come to light. They're right here; you just have to see them again!" This is a kind of talent that I'm sure few other filmmakers at the time, or even after, could have pulled off.

The rest of the film isn't just Stewart's struggle to be heard as a young, new-in-town senator. It's also a witty, more often than not true look of how government tends to really work as opposed to how it should. Basically, the core of the story is the fish-out-of-water type, where Stewart's Jefferson Smith (one of his better Hollywood performances), leader of the Boy Rangers is called to be the senator of his state. He has a childhood hero in town in the form of a senior senator (Claude Rains, terrific as always). And there's even a woman (Jean Arthur) in the mix that's growing an interest in him, at first dubious. But despite the corruption that is almost thrust upon smith by Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold, as skilled a character actor as could be asked for), Smith fights it all the way to his final filibuster, which includes a reading from the Constitution, in-and-out cheers from the Boy Rangers, and general guffaws from the other senators. In other words, it's really much in that pure spirit of Frank Capra that 'Mr. Smith' is working in, and even at its cheesiest and sometimes most-dated moments, it's a very successful picture for what it wants to do. It's really an equal-opportunity kind of film about people in politics that should be able decades later to appeal to both the hopeful and the cynical, and it works as good as it does a comedy as it does a piece to show in history of film or American government course.

17 of 21 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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people have gone over this but still didn't explain it. mrwnmero
Sentimentalist rubbish siluad2
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