Top 100 Movie Review: No. 072 – Mr Smith Goes to Washington

Ranked 72 on the IMDB Top 100 Movies. Watched February 2019.

Cast: James Stewart (Jefferson Smith), Jean Arthur (Saunders), Claude Rains (Senator Joseph Paine), Edward Arnold (Jim Taylor), Guy Kibbee (Governor Hopper)
Director: Frank Capra
My rating: 7.5 / 10

When the idealistic young Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) winds up appointed to the United States Senate, he gains the mentorship of Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains). However, Paine isn’t as noble as his reputation would indicate, and his benefactor Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) is used to politicians doing as they are told. When the naive Smith’s scheme to create a boys’ campsite event conflicts with Taylor’s plan for a dam the corruption of Washington politics looks to steamroll Mr Smith.

What’s to Like
The sights of Washington, the education of how the US Senate works, the patriotic speeches.

What’s not to Like
How the movie just ends when Senator Paine confesses without showing any consequences.

The movie commences with the death of a western state senator, political boss Jim Taylor quickly dictates the successor to Governor Hopper. The voters object, and boss-controlled Hopper appoints Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), organizer of Boy Ranger clubs and hero of the youngsters, attitude being that Smith is harmless, hence easily controlled by the machine.

However the new junior senator’s patriotism rises even further once he sees the sights and wonders of Washington. Smith soon crosses the state party machine with a well­intention plan to create a boys camping event that directly hurts political boss Jim Taylor’s plan to sell land to the Government for a dam.

Taylor decides to destroy Smith with untrue corruption allegations with the idea to expel Smith from the Senate. Before he can be voted out of the body, however, he stages a one-man filibuster against the important deficiency bill, and, in the final moments, triumphs as a one-man sponsor of an insurmountable cause against big money and a controlled media. Eventually even Senator Paine remembers his oath of office and can not continue down this path of discrediting an honest man.

The movie attempts to take an every day man, honest citizen and put him against the political machine. The themes of big money, corrupt politicians, and a controlled media could be modern day themes showing that politics is never as clean as people say it was. The rough tactics of powerful players running down school children can be over the top at times.

The filibuster that Smith tries is inspiring, the never give up attitude even when it looks like his efforts have failed would make most cynics well up with pride. The only downside to the movie is it doesn’t show the consequences of the corrupt men finally caught out. However the realistic look at politics is very insightful especially for a time when media played things as more patriotic.

This movie is what made James Stewart famous and is well worth watching just for this, Jean Arthur is outstanding as a powerful conflicted woman who is assistant to Mr Smith.

Academy Awards

  • Best Writing, Original Story (Lewis R. Foster) – winner
  • Best Picture – nominee
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (James Stewart) – nominee
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Harry Carey) – nominee
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Claude Rains) – nominee
  • Best Director (Frank Capra) – nominee
  • Best Writing, Screenplay (Sidney Buchman) – nominee
  • Best Art Direction (Lionel Banks) – nominee
  • Best Sound, Recording (John P. Livadary) – nominee
  • Best Film Editing (Gene Havlick & Al Clark) – nominee
  • Best Music, Scoring (Dimitri Tiomkin) – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries in this amazing world.
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