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Movie Review: MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939)

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a timeless classic that’s still relevant today.

My Rating: [usr 4]

1939 was a hell of a year for motion pictures. Rightly considered one of the greatest individual movie years of all time. Along with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 1939 also saw the release of classics like Gone With the Wind (which would end up winning Best Picture), The Wizard of Oz Stagecoach, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and Wuthering Heights. 

Regardless of the crowded great movies field, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington still holds up really well. It’s one of director Frank Capra’s many classics. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was controversial when it was released, but also successful at the box office, and made Stewart a major movie star. The film was was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, winning for Best Original Story.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was famously attacked by the Washington press, and politicians in the U.S. Congress, as anti-American and pro-Communist for its portrayal of corruption in the American government. They missed the entire point of the picture. The film is actually really Pro-American when you get down to it. Stewart’s Jefferson “Jeff” Smith is the geekiest Washington, American nerd you’ll ever see.

Other attacks levied against this film and most of Capra’s work is the sentimentality. However, sentimentality doesn’t work if you don’t make your characters earn it, so to speak. What gets lost is how tough this picture actually is. There’s a lot of pessimism, cynicism, and doubt in the Washington D.C. Capra portrays. Even the grouchiest of those will be shocked how tough this film is.

Of course, eventually, the sentimentality comes. Instead of coming off as hackneyed, it’s a welcome joy to finally share in Senator Smith’s triumph. It sounds so simple, but it really helps when our main protagonist is so likeable. I’m not your Screenwriting 101 teacher, but I think that makes sense.

I recommend Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, well, to just about everyone. But especially if you’re into movies about politics and politics itself. It may be old-fashioned, but we still could use a guy like Senator Jefferson Smith in Washington.

TRIVIA

  • Bitterly denounced by Washington insiders angry at its allegations of corruption, yet banned by Fascist states in Europe who were afraid it showed that democracy works.
  • To make his voice hoarse for the filibuster scene, ‘James Stewart’ dried out his throat with bicarbonate of soda.
  • Originally, the ending was much, much longer, involving scenes such as Mr. Smith going back to his home state and given a parade (with Saunders), the Taylor machine being crushed, Mr. Smith on a motorcycle and stopping to see Senator Paine, forgiving him and everyone going to see Smith’s mother. It was cut after a preview audience’s response. Some of the footage can be seen in the theatrical trailer.

 

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

About Knox Harrington

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