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James Stewart and Frank Capra. One needn't know much more going in to be
assured that this will be an enjoyable film. Together they take on the
Washington elite with this dramatic comedy about a naïve Washington outsider
who gets appointed to the Senate and stands alone against corruption and
graft. Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) is appointed from an unnamed state
after one of its Senators dies. He is appointed because the political fat
cats need someone who will not seem like a crony, but who will not stand in
the way of a graft scheme for a pork barrel dam that will make bigwig Jim
Taylor (Edward Arnold) millions. When the wide eyed Smith gets to
Washington, he discovers the corrupt bill because the dam will stand in the
way of his own proposed bill for a children's camp. When he tries to stop
the project, Taylor's political machine frames him to make it seem like he
is the one taking graft. This leads to the dramatic confrontation in the
Senate, where Smith filibusters in an attempt to get the truth
This film is wonderful in so many ways. The story is a classic struggle between good and evil. In typical Capra style, the protagonist and antagonists are exaggerated so there is no confusion as to who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. If there is one clear message in Capra's films it is that those with strong moral fiber never give up hope. He likes to create utterly hopeless situations for characters to test their integrity, and rewards unswerving adherence to basic values and principles by triumph against the odds.
I was dismayed to see a comment, obviously from a young viewer of this film, that said that the characters weren't realistic because no one used profanity. This is a sad testimonial to our culture, when it inconceivable to young people that there was once a time when profanity was the exception and not the rule.
Stewart is brilliant as the idealistic and awe struck kid from the backwoods who is overwhelmed by the glory of Washington, with its monuments and history. The story brings us a confrontation between political expediency and idealistic principles with the message that the truly great men are the ones that don't compromise their principles to hold on to power. Stewart also brings a whole treasure chest of bumbling comedic sight gags that make him all the more lovable in the part.
Jean Arthur is fabulous as the tough and savvy assistant who is jaded by Washington politics, but gets a fresh injection of fervor as she listens to Smith's noble homespun philosophies. Claude Rains is also masterful as the adulterated Senator, who sold his soul to corruption for a chance at the presidency. He plays the simultaneous sense of guilt and ambition with a torment that is clearly ripping his heart out, and the power of both emotions portrayed in his performance makes his character both repugnant and pitiable.
This film is a national treasure. It is in my top 50 list of all time. The story of corruption in politics and the greatness of the men who resist it is timeless and would not be lost on the politicians in Washington today. A 10/10.
Now, I must admit that this is one of my top five favorite films. There
is a warmth, idealism, and kinda simple feeling of hope, that makes one
believe that things will work out in the end. Capra knew exactly what
he wanted, and it shines. Jimmy Stewart, in the role of his life, makes
us believe, what we know is almost impossible in todays crass world.
Claude Rains is incredible as Senator Smith's evil mentor. Jean Arthur, as his confidant, plays the part so well,that we just want her to save the day.
The final scene, where the filibuster is taking place, is among the greatest ever made.
BUT THE PROOF, YOU ASK?
In the early 80s, I showed this film, over three days, to a group of 15 year old inner city teenagers. I taught Political Science in a very difficult school in Chicago. It was a new class, and not all of the "best" students took it.
I decided to show this film at the end of the year, just to see how long I could keep the students attention. I didn't expect much. Fifteen is a very tough age to keep any kind of attention span, and it was at the end of the day, 2:30 -3:15 pm. which made things worse. As the film began, there was rustling in the seats, boredom, that famous oh what a waste of time look...Mind you, this is 43 year old film, about a white Senator, in those "old" days, and being shown to a totally Afro-American crowd of 15 year olds, late in the day, (over a three day period, which meant the students would have to wait till the next day to see what was going on. ..By the end of the third day, Capra had worked his magic, and the entire class was spellbound by this film. They were there till the very end, and you could see how much they enjoyed seeing a film, that they wouldn't have looked at in a thousand years..Comments were wonderful. Any film that could accomplish this, more than 40 years after its conception, to a crowd that one would believe would have no interest deserves to be truly called a "great film."
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
and even invented a pejorative term "Capra-esque" to describe any
non-cynical, heartwarming picture that has a message. His great films,
It Happened One Night, It's a Wonderful Life, and of course, Mr. Smith
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
powerhouses in 1939, a year as important to movies as 1998 was to
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.
The media and those in Washington, D.C. cringed in 1939 when Frank Capra (Oscar-nominated for directing) come out with "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington". Capra, fresh off amazing successes like "Lady for a Day", "It Happened One Night", "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town", "Lost Horizon" and "You Can't Take It With You", used his power to slap some bigwigs in the face with a powerful medium---the motion picture. The result was an immediate backlash by publications and politicians, but cheers from critics and the audience. As with society, the critics and the masses won out as the movie is a masterpiece in every way. A U.S. Senate vacancy leads to a dilemma. Who should be put in office? Everyone believes the apparently naive and gullible James Stewart (Oscar-nominated) is the logical choice because he will be easy to manipulate and he won't rock the boat. Stewart, the leader of the Boy Rangers (a local camp association for youngsters), gets blind-sided by many high-ranking officials who have alterior motives (Oscar nominees Harry Carey and Claude Rains in particular) when his idea for a national boys' camp goes by the wayside. Thus the only thing left for Stewart is to beat those in charge by beating them at their own game---creating a filibuster (a never-ending governmental argument for his cause). Stewart is solid as always here and the supporters (love interest/reporter Jean Arthur and drunk newspaper man Thomas Mitchell included with the aforementioned players) are all terrific throughout. The Oscar-winning screenplay is deceptively intelligent and Capra just had the uncanny ability to mix comedy, drama and interpersonal characterizations together to make consistently wonderful American film experiences. 5 stars out of 5.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a wonderful film about a man Jeff Smith
(James Stewart) who believes that children are the future and should be able
to enjoy the outdoors, while taking in knowledge of their great Country.
When a senator dies in Smith's state, the governor is forced into an awkward
position of electing the new senator. While the governor is sitting down to
dinner, his young children propose the idea of Jeff Smith who is head of the
Boy Rangers and prints a weekly newspaper for the local children. Mr. Smith
is elected into office in the funniest way, a coin toss.
When Mr. Smith arrives in Washington with his colleague Mr. Pain, (Claude Rains) he is amazed by all the greatness that Washington possesses. After being sworn into the Senate Mr. Smith comes up with idea to propose a Bill that would let boys come together and enjoy the wilderness, and the perfect spot would be in his home town next to a creek. What he doesn't know is that his colleague Mr. Pain has his own plans with that same land. The film then releases the full fury of what corrupt politicians can do to a truthful man.
The plot of the film will grab the viewer within the first five minutes and will not let go until the astonishing end. Even though this type of thing is implausible it's still very funny and unique in its own way.
The acting was superb! James Stewart will always represent the good guy trying to make his way through life in an honorable way. Claude Rains character was perfect for him, a good man gone bad by the power of politics. Jean Arthur's character was something that isn't normally seen in the movies. She played an ambitious woman trying to get to the top without anyone's help, but is still the great old fashioned woman she was born to be. James Stewart and Jean Arthur were very charismatic together. There could not have been a better pair.
The lighting in the film was great in two scenes when Mr. Smith is at the Washington memorial the light shines on sentences of the constitution that added a lot to the emotion of the character and helped set the tone for the scene.
This is a classic film that should be recognized and cherished forever. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a great film for the whole family, the film is not only captivating and genuine but there is also a moral in the story. Definitely a ten out of ten, and should be part of your home video library.
Frank Capra and James Stewart were nearly unsurpassed at the task of
taking the kind of story that is optimistic but that borders on being
trite, and making it into a satisfying, worthwhile movie. In "Mr. Smith
Goes To Washington", they accomplish this with a little help from Jean
Arthur, Claude Rains, and Edward Arnold. It's not quite on the level of
"It's a Wonderful Life", but it is as good as almost anything else of
Stewart's performance is important right from the beginning - hardly anyone else could have been believable as the earnest unknown who suddenly becomes an important political figure. Even his wide-eyed appreciation for what he sees in Washington comes across believably. As the story gets more complicated and his character is developed further, Stewart is even better.
The secondary characters are also important, because the story itself is a rather stylized, though still worthwhile, statement about politics. The characters are more believable than are many of the plot developments. Rains contributes a lot as Stewart's troubled colleague, and Jean Arthur is a natural for this kind of role. Arnold plays his devious character well. Capra holds it all together with his craftsmanship, keeping the story on track and getting the most out of the situation.
Mr. Smith is as good as it's legend. Sometimes I'm disappointed when a universally acclaimed movie isn't as enjoyable as I thought it would be. But here, that is not the case. James Stewart is deservedly remembered most for this role. That's saying a lot given his impressive body of work. This is also Frank Capra's signature film along with Mr. Deeds. The idealism of Jefferson Smith might feel a bit anachronisitc today but, and I know this is a cliché, the world could use more people with his values. The supporting cast is also spot on. Jean Arthur plays the same type as she did in Mr. Deeds and Claude Rains is terrific as the mentor who betrays Smith. Strongly recommended, 9/10.
`Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' is not as well known of a movie as it should
be. It is a very good movie that is very interesting and a very good way to
learn how some things involving the Senate work. This reviewer absolutely
loved this movie and wishes she could run out and buy it right now. It
definitely grabs the audience's attention and keeps it there. While
watching this movie, this reviewer was laughing, smiling, getting really,
really angry, learning, and even getting a little teary-eyed. How can a
movie that brings out all those different emotions in someone not be great,
or even spectacular! `Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' is definitely one of
the best movies ever made despite the fact that it is mostly about politics!
It's still interesting!
While watching this movie, the audience might be thinking that the acting isn't half bad and is actually quite realistic. They would be right too! All of the acting is really very good and it draws the audience in and keeps them in. This movie was so close to not having one single cheesy line or unbelievable acting job that it's really a shame that it did. At the very end of the movie Saunders, played by , stands up from her seat in the balcony and yells `Stop Jeff! Stop!' and then falls to the floor. The line and the way says it is very, very cheesy and something the audience might find themselves laughing at. That line is just about the only time in the entire movie where the acting was lacking. James Stewart was, of course, phenomenal. He is a very good actor and one that should be remembered for a very long time. He's awesome!
The only other not so great thing about `Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' is the ending. It's a happy ending but, well, it just ends. It's an abrupt ending. It ends so abruptly that the audience isn't even expecting it to end when it does. It has one of those endings where the audience knows a bunch of things that will be happening, they just aren't shown happening. This reviewer doesn't really care for those kind, it is much better when you get to see the things carried out. Although the ending could have been better `Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' is still an awesome movie and the ending doesn't take away from that at all!
This movie is so great that every person in the world should be able to see it because it is definitely worth the time it takes to see it.
Frank Capra's knack for getting the best out of JAMES STEWART and JEAN
ARTHUR is demonstrated here with both stars giving superb performances.
Ironically, Stewart would not win the Oscar for this role but was awarded
one the following year for a lesser role in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.
As a bumbling, naive senator who is a lamb thrown to the wolves in Washington, D.C., Stewart does a fabulous job--although there are moments when his bumbling awkwardness looks a bit staged. Jean Arthur is a natural for the role of the wise secretary who at first scorns his innocent ways but soon comes to realize he's the real thing.
All of the supporting players are excellent--especially CLAUDE RAINS as a mentor to Stewart who finally has a conscience about deceiving him, and Harry Carey (the western actor) as the man with the gavel who soon realizes that Stewart is not to be underestimated. His reaction shots, grinning and sometimes stifling a grin, say more than words. He and Rains both deserved their supporting role nominations.
But, as usual in a Capra film, you have to be willing to forgive some obvious plot contrivances or overall schmaltz. The ending (when it finally comes after some excessive length in running time) is rather abrupt as though the director suddenly realized he'd gone overtime on the story. And some of the sentimentality (such as the scene where Arthur joins him at the Lincoln Memorial where she knew she'd find him), is hard to swallow until you remind yourself that--hey, this is Capra-corn.
Nevertheless, despite some flaws, it's the kind of comedy-drama about Washington, D.C. that only a director like Capra could make. And the replica of the Senate is amazingly detailed, as are all the interiors which were shot on a soundstage at Columbia. It's also a nice lesson in how the Senate works, how bills have to go through committees, the rules of behavior, filibustering, etc. It will leave you with a warm glow--somewhat like IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE in that respect.
Summing up: It's Stewart's show all the way. He's at his peak here.
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.
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