My Favorite Movies #25 – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Mr Smith Goes to Washington - PosterMr. Smith Goes to Washington

1939

Directed by Frank Capra

Quick synopsis… When idealistic junior senator Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) arrives in Washington, D.C., he’s full of plans and dazzled by his surroundings — qualities he retains despite widespread corruption among his cynical colleagues. Jean Arthur puts in a sharp performance as Smith’s streetwise secretary, who helps him navigate his way through Congress, in this Academy Award-winning classic from director Frank Capra.

  • So much corruption.
  • Glad things have really improved in American politics since this movie’s release 81 years ago.
  • When a US Senator, Sam Foley, dies unexpectedly, the governor of an unnamed state has to choose someone to fill his seat.
  • Governor Hopper’s corrupt political boss, Jim Taylor, wants the governor to appoint one of his men who is easily manipulated.
  • The people, however, want the governor to appoint a man who will go in and incite some reforms.
  • But the governor’s kids want him to appoint Jefferson Smith, head of the Boy Rangers.
  • Is the Boy Rangers a real thing or is it a fictionalized Boy Scouts?
  • Anyway, Hopper can’t take these three factions breathing down his neck about who to appoint.
  • So he flips a coin.
  • Basically how I vote when it comes to a presidential election…
  • The coin lands on its edge next to a newspaper with an article about all the Smith has accomplished.
  • The governor figures that Smith will be well-liked by the people and is young enough to be easily manipulated by senior senator, Joseph Paine.
  • Jefferson clearly looks up to Senator Paine, believing him to be a genuinely good man.
  • After all, his late father was Joe Paine’s friend, so he must be doing good work in Washington.
  • Jeff arrives in Washington and immediately gives his handlers the slip so he can play tourist.
  • It’s his first time in our nation’s capital.
  • There are a lot of really neat things to see and do.
  • Like Ferris Bueller, I question his ability to see all the things he sees in this montage and have it all be the same day.
  • But that’s the magic of movies for you.
  • He finally arrives at his office and feels the need to knock before entering.
  • Clarissa Saunders is Smith’s secretary.
  • She’s cynical after years of service in Washington, most recently working for Smith’s predecessor.
  • Paine wants her to keep Smith busy… and away from anything political.
  • He promises her a nice bonus if she’s successful in maintaining status quo with Smith.
  • The press in D.C. doesn’t exactly go easy on Jeff, making him out to be a complete imbecile.
  • Does someone still pray at the opening of senate meetings?
  • While he’s being sworn in, Jeff discovers what the papers are saying about him.
  • He flies off in a rage and is confronted by the press once more, who reveal to him the truth: that he’s just an appointee who’s expected to vote the way he’s told.
  • Has there ever been anyone in history, real or fictional, as patriotic as Jefferson Smith?
  • He is a pure idealist and his optimism begins to rub off on Saunders while she’s helping him write his own bill.
  • That bill is meant to provide a government loan to start a boys’ camp that would be paid back by the kids who actually attend.
  • But the corrupt powers that be decide to twist things until Smith looks like he’s trying to defraud these kids and have a dam built instead of a camp.
  • Of course, Smith is innocent of all this, but remember Jim Taylor?
  • He’s steamrolling the poor guy.
  • Taylor is the puppet master, pulling the strings of every major politician in this movie.
  • You’re fooling yourself if you don’t think this is how Washington is run to this day.
  • When Smith finds out that Paine is deeply entrenched in the corruption that has made Smith look so dirty, he’s completely shaken by the betrayal.
  • As great as this film is, watching it makes me about as angry as watching any news dealing with politics.
  • Seriously… I’m yelling at the television.
  • Saunders convinces Smith to filibuster as a means of postponing the bill and proving his own innocence.
  • And this is probably the part that anyone who’s seen or even heard of this movie remember the most.
  • James Stewart, pulling out a thermos and a snack as he prepares to talk non-stop.
  • The outcome of this movie turn out a lot better than I imagine anything similar in real life would turn out.
  • If you haven’t seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, do yourself a favor and watch it.
  • All the corruption may anger you, just as it does me…
  • But it’s amazing the sense of hope it can convey that there just might be one or two voices in the political world who are genuinely in office seeking to do what’s right for the people they represent.

Next week we’ll keep the countdown going with #24 – Parenthood. That’s right, there was a movie long before there was a TV show. And it’s a movie that anyone studying family dynamics should be forced to watch.

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