Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939) Director: Frank Capra
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is Frank Capra’s masterpiece, the natural parallel to his earlier Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936). This was Jimmy Stewart’s fifth film, and certainly his career-defining breakthrough, after the prior year being also cast alongside Jean Arthur in Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You (1938).
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a remarkably patriotic film, almost unheard of in our present day and age, however at the time it was frowned upon as it was released near the outbreak of WWII and the notion of portraying the American congress as corrupt was not favorable. The story is based on an unpublished story called “The Gentleman from Montana.” Jimmy Stewart plays a young and idealistic man who hopes to get something done in Washington DC, after being elected thanks to other men pulling the strings to get him elected so that he will play into their puppeteering. The plot highlights his departure from a small town (unnamed) and contrasts his provincialism with Washington’s slick way of doing business. He shocks and amuses the press, but he decides to stick to his principles to secure funding for a boy scout (in the film called “boy rangers”) camp in his hometown -a popular policy among the local boys, and his secretary falls in love with him. In the end, he filibusters and collapses on the senate floor
Capra’s film received a slough of Academy Award nominations. Stewart sadly did not win the award for Best Actor, but he was given the award in 1940 for The Philadelphia Story, often viewed as a consolation for his loss in 1939. The film was originally intended to be a sequel to Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, with Gary Cooper reprising his role.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is an absolute classic, a gem of the 1930s and classic Hollywood. One bit of criticism is the nauseatingly unbelievable naiveté of Jimmy Stewart’s character in the film. His embarrassing goofs drag on and on, but the narrative of the film reinforces a sense of patriotism and nobility that is all too often absent in the halls of congress. It is a wonderful movie.