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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Classics movie directed by Frank Capra

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"Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom." ---Thomas Jefferson

  • Jan 5, 2011
  • by
It is hard to believe but it has now been more than 70 years since the release of Frank Capra's masterpiece "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington". This 1939 gem boasts an all-star cast featuring Jimmy Stewart as the rather naïve and avuncular Senator Jefferson Smith and one of my all-time favorite actresses Jean Arthur in the role of Senator Smith's feisty Chief of Staff Clarissa Saunders. The all-star cast also includes Claude Rains as Senator Joseph Harrison Paine and Edward Arnold as the ruthless party boss Jim Taylor. This is a timeless classic that speaks to us just as powerfully in 2011 as it did to audiences way back in 1939. A screening of "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" should be mandatory for all members of Congress at the beginning of each two year session.

Now if you know anything at all about civics you understand that the Founding Fathers envisioned a Congress populated by citizen legislators. The idea was that serving in the Congress would be an honor bestowed on an individual by his fellow citizens. A person would go to Washington, serve a term or two or three, then return to his home town and go back to work. Jefferson Smith was just such an individual. As head of the Boy Rangers in his state Jefferson Smith was totally apolitical. When he was appointed by the Governor to fulfill the remaining term of a recently deceased U.S. Senator Jefferson Smith was totally taken aback. Although he did not fully understand why he was chosen he was more than willing to do his civic duty and serve. Being from an unidentified Western state Jefferson Smith was totally unprepared for the kind of corruption that he would encounter in our nation's capitol. When he arrived in Washington he seemed like a fish out of water. This was an honest and sincere man who was simply overwhelmed by the history and the institutions of Washington D.C. His naivete was on display for all to see. Most thought him a buffoon who would play right into their hands. His Chief of Staff Clarissa Saunders wanted to quit. But when all was said and done the politicos in Washington had no idea how to deal with an honest man like Jeff Smith. And that is what "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" is really all about.

When Jefferson Smith arrives in Washington he is taken under the wing of the senior senator from his state Joseph Harrison Paine. Paine is a corrupt career politician who mistakenly believes that he can control his young colleague. But when a shady land deal sponsored by Paine is up for consideration Senator Smith begins to ask questions.....lots of very good questions. Suddenly a deal that was thought to be a slam dunk is in great jeopardy. There are powerful interests involved and millions of dollars at stake. Senator Paine and his allies in the Senate decide that Senator Smith must be stopped at any cost. And so they initiate an intensive campaign to discredit him. Through it all the good Senator Smith perseveres cheered on by his Chief of Staff Saunders who has come around to his way of thinking. That memorable scene where Smith filibusters for hours until he is hoarse features a memorable performance by the veteran supporting actor Harry Carey as President of the Senate.

Because this film was made in 1939 many may believe that "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" is corny and somewhat dated. Think again. The values of honesty, decency, hard work and perseverance displayed by our hero are just as valid today as they were back in 1939. Aren't these the values we want to pass on to our children and grandchildren? Furthermore, this is an exceptionally well-made motion picture. The screen play is crisp and the acting outstanding by just about everyone involved. And as you might expect producer/director Frank Capra does a marvelous job in pulling it all together. "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" was nominated for 11 Academy Awards back in 1939 and I believe is still a film that can be enjoyed by the entire family.     Very highly recommended!

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January 20, 2011
Super review! I just watched "Casablanca" and thought Claude Rains did a fantastic job in it. He was my favorite character. I might have to check this one out sometime. Great insights!
More Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (... reviews
review by . August 26, 2004
posted in Movie Hype
Jimmy Stewart is really a phenomenal actor and I can't think of any movie he has been in that I haven't liked. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington may be the first in a genre of movies that depict a na├»ve, goodhearted person entering the evil arena of politics and facing the corruption and shenanigans that go on in our public councils.     The great thing about this movie is it delivers both humor through Mr. Smith's naivety about the ways of the world, while at the same time delivering …
review by . May 26, 2001
OK I admit it I'm a sentamentalist, and a political junkie. Some movies just get to me and I live for politics. Combine the two of them, add fine performances by James Stewart, Claude Rains, Et-al and cap it off with the Capra style and I'm hooked. The story of an innocent thrust into the Senate by a political machine is at times gripping and at other times (ok frequent times) amusing. The dinner table with the Governer and his children is classic. I can't watch this movie without being in tears, …
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Paul Tognetti ()
Ranked #42
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on I never could … more
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About this movie


Political heavyweights decide that Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), an obscure scoutmaster in a small town, would be the perfect dupe to fill a vacant U.S. Senate chair. Surely this naive bumpkin can be easily controlled by the senior senator (Claude Rains) from his state, a respectable and corrupted career politician. Director Frank Capra fills the movie with Smith's wide-eyed wonder at the glories of Washington, all of which ring false for his cynical secretary (Jean Arthur), who doesn't believe for a minute this rube could be for real. But he is. Capra was repeating the formula of a previous film,Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, but this one is even sharper; Stewart and Arthur are brilliant, and the former cowboy star Harry Carey lends a warm presence to the role of the vice president. Bright, funny, and beautifully paced,Mr. Smith Goes to Washingtonis Capra's ode to the power of innocence--an idea so potent that present-day audiences may find themselves wishing for a new Mr. Smith in Congress. The 1939 Congress was none too thrilled about the film's depiction of their august body, denouncing it as a caricature; but even today, Capra's jibes about vested interests and political machines look as accurate as ever.--Robert Horton
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Director: Frank Capra
Genre: Classics
DVD Release Date: February 22, 2000
Runtime: 129 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures
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