Wednesday, November 24, 2010

#202 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)


Director: Frank Capra

Cast: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold, Guy Kibbee, Thomas Mitchell, Eugene Pallette, Beulah Bondi, H.B. Warner

A sudden US Senate vacancy leads to a dilemma-- who will fill this seat, and will this person be someone that gives the senators who appoint him a hard time about a greedy bill they've organized for personal profit? Claude Rains as Senator Paine chooses to elect Jefferson Smith (Stewart), a politically-oblivious patriot who is popular in the media for his work with children.

Mr. Smith shows up in Washington doey-eyed. He visits monuments, gabs nervously, drops his hat in front of pretty girls, and is in innocent awe of everything about the American government. What comes hand-in-hand with this innocence is honesty, and when Mr. Smith tries to begin a bill to build a boys' campground that will disrupt the other senators' greedy bill... all hell breaks loose. A smear campaign begins on Smith, trying to expel him from the senate based on a web of powerful lies from powerful people. But can honesty and justice prevail?

When this film came out in 1939, Capra used it as a powerful tool for reaching the masses with a message: the message being a swift punch in the nose to the US government. The film caused a political uproar but received rave reviews from not only critics but movie-goers all across the country. The film addresses concerns still very relevant to todays' citizens about todays' government. We'd all like to imagine such a hero as Mr. Smith in our own Congress--the only voice of reason and truth amongst the majority. But as we can see, it's no easy undertaking to be the hero, and can we even expect modern day man to take that kind of powerful stance on anything? Or will he just blog about it and hope to get a reality television series?

At any rate, Jimmy Stewart is astounding in this film. He bashes through multiple levels of adored and powerful screen presence within this film: innocence/naivety, adorable heart-throb, and commanding, powerful hero. Though quite long, the film was very accessible, even for someone who would typically shy away from political dramas. A classic for certain.

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