Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
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.
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.
Upon the death of Senator Samuel Foley, Governor Hubert Hopper, after careful deliberation upon listening to the recommendations of his closest confidantes, appoints young Jefferson Smith to fill the vacancy, despite or because of Smith's lack of political experience and thus lack of political know-how. Jeff is the model of patriotism: he recites Lincoln, and is head of the Boy Rangers. Most in the know know that Hopper is the political lackey of corrupt and powerful businessman Jim Taylor. What most do not know is that another of Taylor's political lackeys is the state's senior senator, the well respected Joseph Paine, who has White House aspirations. Opportunistic Hopper knew that, due to a previous attempt, he could not appoint anyone that Taylor recommended, but sees Smith as someone who Paine and thus Taylor can easily manipulate, especially important now as Paine, Taylor and Foley when he was alive had been working behind the political scenes to push through a dam project, all for their own personal gain, buried in a deficiency bill. When Smith arrives in Washington, he is seen as a naive lightweight and a country bumpkin by almost everyone with who he comes into contact, including the Washington press corps, his fellow senators, and even his secretary Clarissa Saunders - known professionally purely as Saunders - whose years working behind the political system, including being in the know about what her previous boss Foley and Paine were and are up to about the dam project, has made her a cynic. How Paine believes he can keep Smith out of trouble is for him to introduce a bill of his own into the house about an issue passionate to him. What Paine is initially unaware about is that what Smith proposes in his bill would place the dam project in jeopardy. Taylor and Paine have to decide how much hardball they will play to make Smith comply or in turn ruin him, while Smith will show if he has what it takes to play with the big boys on the senate floor. Smith may have some unexpected help from someone who has let Washington get the better of her.
Jeffrey Smith is a man who believes children are the future and deserve immediate funding for an outdoor camping experience. When Jeff, the idealistic Washington outsider, is appointed to be the new United States Senate, his plans now stand the chance at being fully realized. However, Jeff is appointed with the belief by others that his naïve and gullible nature will be easy to manipulate to get what they want. He soon realizes, after getting blind-sided by high-ranking officials, that he will need to - literally - stand by himself in an inspired fight against corruption and greed.
Through a series of fortunate, and unfortunate, events, an unsophisticated local hero, Jefferson Smith, is appointed a US Senator. The people pulling the strings in his party and State figure that he will be compliant and malleable and basically stay out of the way of their plans, some of which aren't entirely ethical, or legal. However, a well-intentioned deed sets off a dramatic chain of events, a series of events that will see him at odds with his colleagues, with the shadowy, bullying power brokers and with the entire Senate.
- The governor of an unnamed western state, Hubert "Happy" Hopper (Guy Kibbee), has to pick a replacement for recently deceased U.S. Senator Sam Foley. His corrupt political boss, Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold), pressures Hopper to choose his handpicked stooge, while popular committees want a reformer. The governor's children want him to select Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), the head of the Boy Rangers. Unable to make up his mind between Taylor's stooge and the reformer, Hopper decides to flip a coin. When it lands on edge and next to a newspaper story on one of Smith's accomplishments he chooses Smith, calculating that his wholesome image will please the people while his naïveté will make him easy to manipulate.
Smith is taken under the wing of the publicly esteemed, but secretly crooked, Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains), who was Smith's late father's oldest and best friend, and he develops an immediate attraction to the senator's daughter, Susan (Astrid Allwyn). The unforgiving Washington press quickly labels Smith a bumpkin, with no business being a senator. Paine, to keep Smith busy, suggests he propose a bill.
Smith comes up with legislation that would authorize a federal government loan to buy some land in his home state for a national boys' camp, to be paid back by youngsters across America. Donations pour in immediately. However, the proposed campsite is already part of a dam-building graft scheme included in a Public Works bill framed by the Taylor political machine and supported by Senator Paine.
Unwilling to crucify the worshipful Smith so that their graft plan will go through, Paine tells Taylor he wants out, but Taylor reminds him that Paine is in power primarily through Taylor's influence. Through Paine, the machine accuses Smith of trying to profit from his bill by producing fraudulent evidence that Smith owns the land in question. Smith is too shocked by Paine's betrayal to defend himself, and runs away.
However, Smith's chief of staff, Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur), has come to believe in him, and talks him into launching a filibuster to postpone the Works bill and prove his innocence on the Senate floor just before the vote to expel him. While Smith talks non-stop, his constituents try to rally around him, but the entrenched opposition is too powerful, and all attempts are crushed. Due to influence of the Taylor "machine", on his orders, newspapers and radio stations in Smith's home state refuse to report what Smith has to say and even twist the facts against the Senator. An effort by the Boy Rangers to spread the news results in vicious attacks on the children by Taylor's minions.
Although all hope seems lost, the senators begin to pay attention as Smith approaches utter exhaustion. Paine has one last card up his sleeve: he brings in bins of letters and telegrams from Smith's home state from people demanding his expulsion. Nearly broken by the news, Smith finds a small ray of hope in a friendly smile from the President of the Senate (Harry Carey). Smith vows to press on until people believe him, but immediately collapses in a faint. Overcome with guilt, Paine leaves the Senate chamber and attempts to kill himself with a gun. When he is stopped, he bursts back into the Senate chamber, loudly confesses to the whole scheme, and affirms Smith's innocence.