Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) Poster

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A National Treasure
FlickJunkie-26 June 2000
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 out.

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.
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It works in a way no other movie could, THERE IS PROOF
stuartpiles1 May 2006
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.


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 no one would believe would have any interest in, deserves to be truly called a "great film."
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Want to Get Your View Across? Why Not Filibuster?
tfrizzell30 April 2004
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.
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Required viewing for anyone elected or appointed for public office.
lenndogg2 June 1999
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 time, and even invented a pejorative term "Capra-esque" to describe any non-cynical, heartwarming picture that has a message. His great films, like It Happened One Night, It's a Wonderful Life, and of course, Mr. Smith Goes 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 true powerhouses in 1939, a year as important to movies as 1998 was to baseball, 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.
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Capra & Stewart Make It Work Very Well
Snow Leopard27 September 2004
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 its kind.

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.
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an honest film
Jennydavis13118 May 2004
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.
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drifts in and out of comedy and sincerity with the greatest of ease
Quinoa198420 May 2006
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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A true classic that lives up to it's reputation
perfectbond16 May 2003
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.
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Capra-corn but very watchable with some great performances...
Doylenf1 August 2003
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.
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A bit absurd, but still enjoyable and relevant today
Gambitt5 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
In "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," a U.S. senator suddenly passes away, and Mr. Smith is tapped to fill the position. Unbeknownst to the honest, decent Smith, he is intended merely to be a puppet of the powerful forces that already control the state's governor and its other Congressmen. Smith collides head-on with these forces and must fight to save himself and his values from destruction in the public arena.

"Mr. Smith," directed by Frank Capra, is not meant to be very realistic. The basic plot and characters of Mr. Smith are borderline ridiculous. Smith goes beyond naive, to the point of appearing ignorant and lacking in common sense at times. He seems to have the civics education of a 2nd-grader. Everything in the movie is exaggerated to the extremes.

Capra's D.C. is likewise a caricature. The U.S. Senate is a united front of entrenched cronyism. They move as one nonpartisan mass, always supporting each other in their mutual corruption. The media is easily herded into line, an interpretation that probably strikes closer to truth, although that system today has been undermined by the Internet.

Still, if the true Washington is not quite as fraudulent as Copra's version, there's no doubt that it is probably perceived that way by many Americans today. The film touches upon real issues that affect modern politics. It's amazing how relevant certain lines and scenes remain after all these years, perhaps more so today.

What did bug me about the film was its shamelessly idealistic view of small-town American heroes like Mr. Smith. Like a Bruckenheimer movie where Billy boy and Jim Bob from the ranch save the planet, "Mr. Smith" sometimes comes off as a self-congratulatory pat on the back to the common man. It rails against the elitism and special interest of Washington, a popular sentiment today.

This might not bother me so much except that this country is just coming off an extended experiment of putting a "commoner" in a government seat of critical importance and things didn't turn out so hot. As nasty, cold, and dirty as it may seem to place a compromising politician into DC, that may be preferable to putting an "oh shucks, well, golly gee, I dunno" kinda guy into a position of major responsibility.

This country has a low tolerance for corruption. It has an even lower tolerance of incompetence.
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This movie is awesome! No complaints here!
Blondeatheart5629 April 2004
`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.
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Perhaps The Greatest Political Film Ever Made
zkonedog4 March 2017
From time to time, a movie comes along that holds up so well that it actually gets BETTER with age. "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" is EXACTLY that type of movie.

For a basic plot summary, this movie tells the story of Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart) a sort of "wide-eyed rube" who only gets promoted to U.S. Senator because of the political machine of Senator Joseph Payne (Claude Rains), whom the young Smith adores. Once in Washington, however, Smith gets a rude awakening as to the "real" politics of D.C. With the help of a female aide named Saunders (Jean Arthur), Smith must decide whether to fall in line or fight the deep- rooted corruption in the Capitol dome.

This movie remains an all-time classic for two primary reasons:

1. It strikes such a simple emotional chord in all of us. Even though, deep down, we know that corruption runs rampant in even the highest levels of government, we like to cling to the ideals that the nation was founded on. Well, that is exactly the journey that Stewart's Smith viscerally takes us on. We want him to succeed so badly because we all feel as if that is what WE would do in a similar situation.

2. I know I'll probably get a few down-votes for this statement alone, but I believe that our government is as corrupt now as it has ever been. Thus, while watching Stewart's impassioned pleas for honesty and common sense, my heart ached for the United States of America. So, not only does "Mr. Smith" stand the test of time, but it actually transcends it.

Basically, this movie does to politics what fellow Frank Capra film "It's A Wonderful Life" does to Christmas. If it were up to me, this movie would be shown in every American Government high school classroom and on television sometime the week before every major political election. It is THAT important in the message that it espouses.
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Keep an eye on Jean Arthur!
dm-85 January 1999
Besides a brilliantly written story, and brilliant acting by James Stewart, there is one element of this movie that can't be overlooked: Jean Arthur's acting.

With her voice and facial expressions, she pulls you through the storyline. The movie may be about Mr. Smith (Stewart), but much of it is seen through Saunder's (Arthur's) eyes. When she falls in love with Smith, we can't help but do it too.

This is Capra's opus, and contains not one, but two of the best acting performances I've ever seen.
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"Either I'm dead right, or I'm crazy!"
ackstasis2 March 2007
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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Wow. (may be spoilers)
Box_o_Chocolates31 October 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I admit that I just saw this movie very recently and approached it as a typical teenager would in this day and age. But I forgot how much I love Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life" (one of my all time favorites) and how much I love Frank Capra. Well, obviously I ended up falling in love with this movie, too.

Of course, it's not a typical movie like we'd see in theaters today. I'm not sure why people rate it based on that. Old movies should be treated with more respect! They didn't have the technology that we did now, and the most advance things they could do were corny montages. :) Really, I found a lot of things funny in this movie that shouldn't have been. (but I tend to laugh more than anything; life is just better that way) The boys in the entire movie were hilarious. They were strange. And for some reason, it was okay for angry politicians to ram their huge truck into the boys' car. And it was okay for Jimmy-boy to run around the streets punching people. But in the end, I believe those parts made the movie more enjoyable!

The music, the acting, the was all top notch in my opinion. Well, the music was a bit too patriotic at times, but that was very appropriate. Jean Arthur was very cute and played her role quite well. And, for some reason, I fell in love with Claude Rains voice..which means I fell in love with his character. I had to convince myself that there was some good in him, and I was right. The story was just fine. (a lot better than a lot of movies around today! oy!) We went over the corniness...and the plot may have been a bit predictable, but I really wanted it to end well. Good needs to defeat evil in the end. And sure, the ending may seem a bit abrupt, but what can they say after that? All is well!

A very good movie. I'd recommend it to might just be surprised. (hey, can you believe it? I really hate history and I enjoyed this movie!)
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Arguably the most important political movie ever made!
johnfitz1909699 April 2007
If I could choose one movie, more than any other, which was not only brilliant, but highly significant, it would be this one. We live an an age when cynicism about politics is rife, when people who get involved to change things for the better are more often than not dismissed as naive; this is a film which everyone who is cynical towards politics should see. It doesn't hide the fact that there is corruption in politics, but it does say quite clearly that there is a point and a value to standing up to it.

As movie quotes go, Jean Arthur's words to Jeff Smith deserve to be remembered: "Your friend Mr. Lincoln had his Taylors and Paines. So did every other man whoever tried to lift his thought up off the ground. Odds against 'em didn't stop those men. They were fools that way. All the good that ever came into this world came from fools with faith like that." This is a movie which can teach a very valuable lesson, particularly those who despair of modern politics. There is a way forward.
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Mr. Smith learns about politics the hard way
blanche-226 January 2006
What a wonderful film. What an exaggerated, corny, fantastic, beautifully acted, exciting, wonderful film.

"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is a classic for good reason. It reinforces qualities that many of us have lost along the way: idealism, strong, unshakable belief, never quitting, honesty, and commitment. Today, patriotism and "American values" have taken on another connotation. They have become the property of the right wing. But there isn't anything wrong with the kind of patriotism and American values expressed by Jefferson Smith, which are different from what is being expressed today.

Is anyone today as idealistic as Mr. Smith was when he first came to Washington? Can one really win against a powerful force like the Taylor machine? As one who was involved in a legal case where the other side had all the clout and all the money, I sadly have to answer that I don't think so. In the real world, as Court TV has taught us, things don't work that way. Is anyone as corrupt as Senator Paine and Jim Taylor? Sadly, I'd have to say probably. Would they ruin anyone who got in their way? Yes. Have they? Definitely.

"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is a fantasy, but it's a fantasy that uplifts us and reminds us of what we could be and, like Jean Arthur says in the film, maybe being jaded isn't such a good idea all the time.

James Stewart had the role of a lifetime, and he was perfect. Homespun, intelligent, boyishly good-looking, his career and tremendous popularity even today speak for themselves. His filibuster scenes are incredible, passionate, and strong. We were lucky we had him as long as we did. There will never be another. Jean Arthur was fabulous in her role as a streetwise assistant who finds something to believe in. Claude Rains, as the unlikable, weak Senator Paine, gives a powerful performance. The bad guys - and Capra always makes sure they're real bad - were all great. As for Harry Carey, the sympathetic speaker, you want to hug him. A fantastic job.

Frank Capra knew how to make movies. The pace is swift, the story strong, and the scenes tense and exciting. One gets caught up in the world he fashions. A shame it isn't real.
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"Lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for"
ravikishore285 November 2014
This movie will make you laugh, fall in love, believe in morality and trust me, it'll make you dance with elation in the end. James Stewart will take you back to your younger days vibrant with energy, living the ideals and free from bitterness. The romance is the (not oft explored) simpleton-guy & cynic-girl kind. The scene where Stewart prepares the bill with Jean Arthur is priceless. I rate its direction alongside Casablanca and The Apartment, unfortunately its an extinct style. The dialog writing is sublime especially while addressing the themes of liberty and life.

In hindsight this is one of the earliest superhero movies. There is a hero whom kids adore, bad men with anti-superpowers and a sad girl who is first enthralled by the hero's superpowers but then falls in love with his human side !!!
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Critics and box office success. Why do I have a problem?
denscul2 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Frank Capra's fans give Capra high marks for his film making. He was a great Director. But Capra's detractors said he was known for his "corn" rather than art. If truth is art, then Capra fails, not to entertain, but as a truth teller. Capra is one of the first "message" directors. In this movie, he goes against the Washington establishment, political hacks and powers behind the throne. The sad fact is that nothing has changed because human nature has not changed.

Capra creates the Character of Jefferson Smith, played by Jimmy Stewart in an great performance. The supporting cast performs as well under the direction of Capra. Whether Capra or the writers are to blame is not known, but the Smith character is a caricature of a real person. And because he is not real and the story is not reality. If this movie was considered a comedy, so be it, but critics have had 60 plus years to consider this movie as a significant comment on good versus evil.

Stewart's character is chosen by a shallow Governor to fill a US Senate seat and his choice is not "the best candidate" for the job. Nothing unbelievable in that, , but Smith's character is stretched beyond belief. To become a US Senator, you must be at least 30 years old. Smith is introduced as someone with the maturity of a 15 year old. With no wife, no girl friend; he acts like a 15 year old when introduced to mature women. Taking a tour of Washington leaving his homing pigeons to the care of others, is also the behavior of an adolescent. Capra wants us to believe that adolescence is synonymous with honesty. It is not. Nor was his striking journalists who portrayed him as a dope.

Somehow this idealistic character takes on the corruption of the world in the form of a junior Senator and conquers all. And discovers love and gets the girl in the end. If you like vintage syrup, this movie is right for you. Just remember, its just a movie, and in real life, the bad guys usually win.
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Mr. Smith-Where are You? Do We Need You Today? ****
edwagreen7 March 2006
James Stewart was simply magnificent in this memorable classic of a dedicated young politician who is appointed to the senate following the death of his state's senator.. He wants to do what is best for his constituents. He soon learns that in Washington this is not to be the case. Corruption, patronage et al are alive and well and functioning.

Edward Arnold, in a supporting role, is fabulous as the old style political boss. The Stewart character represents what we need as leaders to run this great nation of ours. Some real scene stealing is done by Claude Rains as the other state's senator who has become corrupt. His temperament is perfect for the part. His seething by guilt and his denunciation of his fellow senator shows depth in acting. His outburst at the end of the film is totally memorable. He claims that he has compromised to get what he wants. How far from the truth this really is! Jean Arthur, as the secretary in the know, is truly fabulous as well. Newspapers can learn from this film. They should. Censorship still exists in 2006.

Remember that great filibuster scene? Stewart acted his heart out. Though he lost the coveted Oscar here, the Academy rewarded him the following year for the comedy "The Philadelphia Story."

This film should be a definite pre-requisite for students in political science classes.
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Idealism vs. "the machine"
ACitizenCalledKane18 January 2005
The theme of one man being able to combat the ways of a long-established system is not a new one. In fact, man versus machine is one of the oldest forms of conflict in cinema, but this is a different kind of "machine," this "Taylor Machine." When a young, naive, and idealistic man by the name of Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) is placed, as a pawn, in the United States Senate, he is honored and humbled by the job set out before him. He sees it as an opportunity to provide a service for his country, and, even more so, his people. In Jefferson Smith, we see everything that is good and wholesome in America. One man who wishes for nothing more than an improvement upon a country that he already cherishes. He intends to do everything he can to fulfill his duty as a newly appointed Senator. However, the people that put him there were not nearly as patriotic in their intentions. Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) and Senator Joseph Harrison Paine (Claude Rains) have conspired to put Smith in office in hopes that he will simply sit there and keep quiet while they pass a bill that will profit Taylor. Smith's dream of building a national boy's camp is shattered by Taylor's scheme to build a dam in the same area. The powerful Jim Taylor is forced to pull some strings in order to discredit the young senator so that his dam can be built. The Taylor Machine frames Smith, accusing him of fraud. Shamed, Smith is ready to leave Washington behind when his assistant, Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur) inspires him to fight for his ideals just as his forefathers had. Smith returns to congress, armed with a new strategy to accomplish his goal.

James Stewart gives one of his finest performances as Jefferson Smith, the young, passionately patriotic Senator confronting corruption in the government he holds so dear. Jean Arthur's performance as Clarissa Saunders is strong, while Claude Rains is forced to counter Stewart's inspired intensity (a feat that I feel he accomplishes). The filibuster scene is one of the highlights of the film, and one of the more memorable sequences in American cinema. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a wonderful movie, not just because of James Stewart's relentless performance, but because it has quite a bit to say. It is a statement declaring that ideals are stronger than the pages they are printed on, and that it is our ideals and the spirit through which we see them realized that allows one man to topple "the machine."
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Age is nothing for this film, still incredible relevant
audrablum24 January 2019
This week I watched the 1939 dramedy Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The logline reads "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." I think the best part of watching this was realizing that the battle of morality in places of power is nothing new. This particular film, although it may have had some funny moments, was definitely more drama and less comedy. As a product of Columbia Pictures, it was very professionally done. However, to me, the elements that stood out the most were the writing and acting. The writing of this film was really well thought out and was executed very well too. There seemed to be a lot of study or knowledge of politics and a lot of time spent in constructing the plot sequence the right way in order to pull this off. The acting was the next best part of this film. Obviously James Stewart is in this film, but Jean Arthur and Guy Kibbee really gave some stellar performances. Overall, I thought that this film, even given its age, is still relevant today. I enjoyed it and will be sharing it with others.
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Believe the hype about this one!
volare-cantare23 July 2018
Warning: Spoilers
The only reason this isn't a 10/10 in my book is that I wish there had been more closure; Smith finding out about his victory, meeting with Saunders, Taylor's downfall, etc. But overall... Every time Capra and Stewart get together, it's magic (even more so when Jean Arthur is the leading lady). And this is no exception! Even nearly 80 years later, the story is a breath of fresh air, and incredibly gripping. I couldn't look away for a moment when it came down to the courtroom scenes at the end. It's a tremendous movie - it truly deserves its high rating. If you get a chance to see it, don't miss it!
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grantss11 January 2018
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 powerbrokers and with the entire Senate.

Brilliant movie from Frank Capra. While Capra also gave us such great movies as It's A Wonderful Life, Meet John Doe and It Happened One Night, this is his greatest work. A superb indictment of politics and how democracy has been undermined and corrupted, told with the trademark Capra brand of wholesomeness and practical idealism. Considering how politics has even further degenerated since 1939, even more relevant today than when it was released in 1939.

Clever, engaging plot that doesn't waiver for a second. Not an ounce of deadwood in the movie - every scene is perfect and important. Some great twists and turns and some great tension towards the end as Smith struggles to preserve his name and ideals. Wonderful themes and morals too, as you would expect from Frank Capra.

Add in some excellent performances, especially from James Stewart in the lead role and Jean Arthur as Ms Saunders. Both received Oscar nominations, as did Harry Carey for playing the President of the Senate.

In all, Mr Smith Goes To Washington was nominated for 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, but won only one, for best original screenplay. Unfortunately for it, the 1940 Oscars belonged to a juggernaut known as Gone With The Wind...
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Essential viewing!
JohnHowardReid24 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Director: FRANK CAPRA. Screenplay: Sidney Buchman. Based on an original screen story, "The Gentleman from Montana", by Lewis R. Foster. Photography: Joseph Walker. Film editors: Gene Havlick and Al Clark. Music composed by Dimitri Tiomkin, directed by M. W. Stoloff. Art director: Lionel Banks. Costumes: Kalloch. 2nd unit director: Charles Vidor. Technical adviser: Jim Preston. Montage effects: Slavko Vorkapich. Stills: Irving Lippman. Assistant director: Arthur S. Black. Sound engineer: Edward L. Bernds. Western Electric Sound System. Producer: Frank Capra.

Copyright 10 October 1939 by Columbia Pictures Corp. New York opening at the Radio City Music Hall, 19 October 1939. U.S. release: 19 October 1939. U.K. release: January 1940. Australian release: 25 January 1940. 13 reels. 11,822 feet. 131 minutes.

SYNOPSIS: Idealistic greenhorn senator uncovers corruption in Washington.

NOTES: Academy Award, Lewis R. Foster, Original Story (defeating Bachelor Mother, Love Affair, Ninotchka and Young Mr Lincoln). Also nominated for Best Picture (lost to Gone With The Wind); Best Actor, James Stewart (lost to Robert Donat for Goodbye, Mr Chips); both Harry Carey and Claude Rains, Supporting Actor (lost to Thomas Mitchell in Stagecoach); Directing (lost to Victor Fleming for GWTW); Art Direction (lost to GWTW); Film Editing (GWTW); Best Music Score (Stagecoach); Sound Recording (When Tomorrow Comes).

2nd Best Picture of 1939 (Goodbye, Mr Chips was first) — The Film Daily annual poll of U.S. film critics.

Best Male Performance of 1939, James Stewart — New York Film Critics.

COMMENT: Outstanding entertainment — although the film is not without its defects. Chief problem is that there is too much talking, especially in the middle of the film where Capra is content to capture the dialogue in long, static takes. If about 15 minutes were trimmed from the Arthur-Stewart scenes, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" would be a masterpiece.

All the same, as Graham Greene wrote in The Spectator, it's a great film, acted by such a magnificent cast, "Capra can afford to fling away on tiny parts men like Eugene Palette, Guy Kibbee, Thomas Mitchell and Harry Carey. . . . Here is Capra, back to his finest form. All the familiar qualities are here: the exciting close-ups, the sudden irrelevant humor, the delight in the ordinary human face."*

Greene truly states that you remember the faces in this film vividly — the faces chosen and shot with such Capra care — and this, it might be added, long after the "message" and the forced romance are forgotten.

* The Pleasure-Dome: The Collected Film Criticism of Graham Greene 1935-40 edited by John Russell Taylor (Oxford University Press, 1980).
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