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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 #147 | Won 1 Oscar. Another 4 wins & 12 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
... Saunders
... Jefferson Smith
... Senator Joseph Paine
... Jim Taylor
... Governor Hopper
... Diz Moore
... Chick McGann
... Ma Smith
... Senate Majority Leader
... President of the Senate
... Susan Paine
... Mrs. Hopper
... Senator MacPherson
... Senator Monroe
H.V. Kaltenborn ... 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 at his greatest! 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)

Gross USA:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


| (TV)

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Frank Capra faced a daunting logistical problem in filming the Senate scenes. The Senate chamber had been faithfully recreated on the Columbia stages by art director Lionel Banks and a huge team of craftsmen, and the set was just that: a chamber. It was a tall, four-sided set filled with hundreds of people. Action required for the story would also be taking place simultaneously on three levels: the Senate floor, the rostrum where the Vice President sat, and the galleries holding the press, the pages, and the public. As Capra put it in his autobiography, "How to light, photograph, and record hundreds of scenes on three levels of a deep well, open only at the top, were the logistic nightmares that faced electricians, cameramen, and soundmen." See more »


(at around 9 mins) When the governor enters the Smiths' home (with the band playing) we see, from the inside, Ma closing the door almost shut. When the scene shifts to outside the house, Ma is again closing the same door. See more »


Senator Joseph Paine: Now, then, Saunders. You stop this nonsense and go back to Smith's office and go to work and get him to the Senate by twelve o'clock.
Clarissa Saunders: Look, Senator, I wasn't given a brain just to tell a Boy Ranger what time it is.
See more »


Featured in Stars of the Silver Screen: James Stewart (2011) See more »


(1862) (uncredited)
Music by Daniel Butterfield
In the score when Smith is at the Arlington National Cemetery
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

"Either I'm dead right, or I'm crazy!"
2 March 2007 | by See all my reviews

Patriotic, stirring, uplifting, absolutely mesmerizing… Here are just a few words that can be used to describe Frank Capra's brilliant 1939 film, 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.' Bringing together a stellar cast of both fresh and seasoned actors, Capra manages to reach into each of our chests, and wrench almost painfully at our heartstrings.

Jefferson Smith (James Stewart, 'It's A Wonderful Life'), is a young, enthusiastic patriot who resides in an unnamed American state, but is known throughout it (most especially by the young boys of the region) as an unsung hero. Head of the Boy Rangers, Smith has a love of his country and of nature, once quenching a potentially devastating forest fire single-handedly. After the unexpected death of a current Senator, Governor Hubert Hopper (Guy Kibbee) is forced to choose a replacement. Whilst his corrupt political boss, Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold), urges him to appoint a handpicked stooge, Hopper surprisingly decides to follow the confident advice of his own children, awarding the job to Smith.

Smith arrives in Washington, excited and idealistic, no doubt modestly considering himself to be unsuitable for such a prestigious position. He is proud to accompany the other current state Senator, Joseph Harrison Paine (Claude Rains, 'Notorious'), a highly-esteemed man who was once great friends with Smith's father. Unbeknownst to Smith, however, Paine had long ago abandoned his political ideals, seduced by the promise of power and political longevity to make "certain compromises." Whilst Smith works tirelessly to submit a bill regarding the creation of a national boy's camp at Willet Creek, which he hopes will teach a new generation the value of freedom and liberty, the devious Paine schemes to dam that same locality, an act that will serve nobody but the power-hungry Jim Taylor. When Paine's cynical secretary, Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur), informs Smith of these plans, he determinedly attempts to speak his mind, only to be quashed by the almighty "Taylor Machine."

Frank Capra, who had previously supplied Columbia Pictures Corporation with two Academy Award Best Picture winners ('It Happened One Night,' 1934 and 'You Can't Take It With You,' 1938), once again proved his undeniable genius, something he would continue to do throughout his film-making career. One often-cited example involves the romantically-awkward Smith's second encounter with Paine's beautiful daughter, Susan (Astrid Allwyn). Rather than focusing on faces, as would be the typical style for such a scene, Capra keeps the camera firmly on Smith's hat, as he restlessly shuffles it between his fingers, frequently dropping it to the floor and stooping to reclaim it. This shot tells us more about Smith than any facial close-up ever could!

Finally, James Stewart is unquestionably brilliant as the young, idealistic Smith, in one of his first critically recognised roles. The look of absolute awe and wonderment on his face upon first witnessing the Capitol Dome appears truly genuine, despite the fact that Stewart was merely acting against a projection. For his highly memorable filibuster speech at the climax of the film, Stewart dried out his throat with bicarbonate of soda to make himself sound hoarse, an act that could potentially have destroyed his later ability to speak. As we witness Jefferson Smith, ragged and exhausted, determinedly continuing to shout hoarsely at the Senate members, we immediately understand that his voice is reaching much, much further. He is not just shouting at the Senate, but he is shouting at the people; he is shouting at his country; he is shouting at us. And we are right there alongside him, quietly urging him along.

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