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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Not Rated | | Comedy, Drama | 19 October 1939 (USA)
1:38 | Trailer

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



(screen play), (story)
Top Rated Movies #132 | 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
Susan Paine
Mrs. Hopper
Senator MacPherson
Senator Monroe
H.V. Kaltenborn ...


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


Capra's Greatest Hit --- The Screen At Its Most Inspired! See more »


Comedy | Drama


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?


This was reportedly Jean Arthur's favorite of her films. See more »


Susan Payne should be spelled "Susan Paine". See more »


Senator Joseph Paine: Let me go! I'm not fit to be a senator! I'm not fit to live! Expel me, not him! Willet Dam is a fraud! It's a crime against the people who sent me here - and I committed it! Every word that boy said is the truth! Every word about Taylor and me and graft and the rotten political corruption of my state! Every word of it is true! I'm not fit for office! I'm not fit for any place of honor or trust! Expel me, not that boy!
See more »


Referenced in About a Boy: About a Christmas Card (2014) See more »


Yankee Doodle
(ca. 1755) (uncredited)
Traditional music of English origin
Played during the opening credits and often in the score
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Frequently Asked Questions

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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.

18 of 22 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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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
The system has been rotten for a long time pinkybanana2000
Casting a Remake. laffalott1
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