Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Reviews
Brilliant movie from Frank Capra. While Capra also gave us such great movies as It's A Wonderful Life, Meet John Doe and It Happened One Night, this is his greatest work. A superb indictment of politics and how democracy has been undermined and corrupted, told with the trademark Capra brand of wholesomeness and practical idealism. Considering how politics has even further degenerated since 1939, even more relevant today than when it was released in 1939.
Clever, engaging plot that doesn't waiver for a second. Not an ounce of deadwood in the movie - every scene is perfect and important. Some great twists and turns and some great tension towards the end as Smith struggles to preserve his name and ideals. Wonderful themes and morals too, as you would expect from Frank Capra.
Add in some excellent performances, especially from James Stewart in the lead role and Jean Arthur as Ms Saunders. Both received Oscar nominations, as did Harry Carey for playing the President of the Senate.
In all, Mr Smith Goes To Washington was nominated for 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, but won only one, for best original screenplay. Unfortunately for it, the 1940 Oscars belonged to a juggernaught known as Gone With The Wind...
In December 2014 it's very interesting to watch a film from 1940 about politics on Capital Hill only to realize how the influence of industry in government hasn't really changed. That back then just as today those with great wealth are the ones who assert their will through the current practice of our political economy. For me this film demonstrates how historically this sanctioned (and sometimes not so sanctioned) corruption has been the common practice in government for such a long time now. And when something is common, it is often confused for what is normal. When the thing that's common and seen as normal is not a healthy situation and many people know it, but worse accept it, then it leads to resignation and cynicism.
It's very easy for the cynical to view this film as somethings being an expression of cornball idealism under the weight of business as usual that has been the business for so long. I prefer to see those ideals as something still worth fighting for, because they are human ideals of a functional society that were intended to be a code of honor for government. They were supposed to be a values system for our views and behaviors toward one another in our communities so that government had something vital to protect and serve. Those were the original intentions. Cornball idealism? To the easily accepting cynic-of course. After all, how could we possibly end business as usual and truly move toward practicing those ideals? A question that the resigned very easily have an answer for-we can't.
Before Frank Capra ventured into his war propaganda films in the early-to-mid 40's, he made some of the most important and acclaimed films of all time. In back to back years he directed the 1938 sleeper hit, You Can't Take it With You, and the classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Capra carried some of the same cast members over to the ladder, as Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur, and Edward Arnold are among the many who acted in both films. Continuing with the tradition of Capra's other works, Mr. Smith deals with a common man taking on big ideas and ideals, only to be shut down by those more powerful and privileged.
This was the film that really showed the world what Stewart could do. Even though I have seen tons of his films, this one stands out as some of his finest acting and most demanding roles of his filmography. He was always great at playing an everyman and someone you can undeniably root for, and Jeff Smith is a defining role for him. Smith represents the audience in going along for this political ride and I loved the way Stewart gave the character a certain amount of innocence and vulnerability while also displaying a graceful and powerful presence as well.
Having wonderful chemistry in You Can't Take it With You, it's no surprise that Stewart and Arthur's work together here is just as good, if not better. Arthur plays Clarissa Saunders, who manages to keep Smith afloat even though he's constantly swept away by Washington and all of the extra perks for being in the Senate. It's also not a forced romance, like a lot of 30's films, it takes a while for it to be developed as its handled with care. Arthur may very well be the best romantic partner Stewart ever had.
1939 was a fantastic year for film, with Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind also being released. But perhaps no film from that year is still as relevant as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Capra covers the film with patriotism with beautiful shots of Washington D.C. and a patriotic song here or there, but its his step into a pessimistic style of filmmaking that's most intriguing here. The last 30 minutes with Stewart giving an Oscar worthy performance and Capra seamlessly twisting the story into unpredictable territories is truly something special.
+Stewart becoming the Stewart we all love
+Arthur is marvelous
+Capra's balanced directing
"I do not yield!"