Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The governor of an unnamed western state, Hubert “Happy” Hopper (Guy Kibbee), has to pick a replacement for recently deceased U.S. Senator Sam Foley. His corrupt political boss, Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold), pressures Hopper to choose his handpicked stooge, while popular committees want a reformer, Henry Hill. The governor’s children want him to select Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), the head of the Boy Rangers. Unable to make up his mind between Taylor’s stooge and the reformer, Hopper decides to flip a coin. When it lands on edge – and next to a newspaper story on one of Smith’s accomplishments – he chooses Smith, calculating that his wholesome image will please the people while his naïveté will make him easy to manipulate.

Junior Senator Smith is taken under the wing of the publicly esteemed, but secretly crooked, Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains), who was Smith’s late father’s friend. Smith develops an immediate attraction to the senator’s daughter, Susan (Astrid Allwyn). At Senator Paine’s home, Smith has a conversation with Susan, fidgeting and bumbling, entranced by the young socialite. Smith’s naïve and honest nature allows the unforgiving Washington press to take advantage of him, quickly tarnishing Smith’s reputation with ridiculous front page pictures and headlines branding him a bumpkin.

To keep Smith busy, Paine suggests he propose a bill. With the help of his secretary, Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur), who was the aide to Smith’s predecessor and had been around Washington and politics for years, Smith comes up with a bill to authorize a federal government loan to buy some land in his home state for a national boys’ camp, to be paid back by youngsters across America. Donations pour in immediately. However, the proposed campsite is already part of a dam-building graft scheme included in an appropriations bill framed by the Taylor “political machine” and supported by Senator Paine.

Unwilling to crucify the worshipful Smith so that their graft plan will go through, Paine tells Taylor he wants out, but Taylor reminds him that Paine is in power primarily through Taylor’s influence. Through Paine, the machine in his state accuses Smith of trying to profit from his bill by producing fraudulent evidence that Smith already owns the land in question. Smith is too shocked by Paine’s betrayal to defend himself, and runs away.

Saunders, who looked down on Smith at first, but has come to believe in him, talks him into launching a filibuster to postpone the appropriations bill and prove his innocence on the Senate floor just before the vote to expel him. In his last chance to prove his innocence, he talks non-stop for about 24 hours, reaffirming the American ideals of freedom and disclosing the true motives of the dam scheme. Yet none of the Senators are convinced.

The constituents try to rally around him, but the entrenched opposition is too powerful, and all attempts are crushed. Owing to the influence of Taylor’s machine, newspapers and radio stations in Smith’s home state, on Taylor’s orders, refuse to report what Smith has to say and even distort the facts against the senator. An effort by the Boy Rangers to spread the news in support of Smith results in vicious attacks on the children by Taylor’s minions.

Although all hope seems lost, the senators begin to pay attention as Smith approaches utter exhaustion. Paine has one last card up his sleeve: he brings in bins of letters and telegrams from Smith’s home state, purportedly from average people demanding his expulsion. Nearly broken by the news, Smith finds a small ray of hope in a friendly smile from the President of the Senate (Harry Carey). Smith vows to press on until people believe him, but immediately collapses in a faint. Overcome with guilt, Paine leaves the Senate chamber and attempts to commit suicide, but is stopped by other senators. When he is stopped, he bursts back into the Senate chamber, loudly confessing to the whole scheme; that he should be expelled from Senate, and affirms Smith’s innocence.

REVIEW:

Politics has never been my cup of tea. I tend to avoid it whenever and however I can, which is rather hard considering the fact that my boss was a one time Democratic campaign manager up in Connecticut and gets his jollies off of any and all things politics. That being said, I have heard so many things about Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, none of them bad, that the chance to watch this film and determine its greatness could not be passes up.

What is this about?

In Frank Capra’s classic, junior senator Jefferson Smith remains idealistic despite widespread corruption among his cynical colleagues in Washington.

What did I like?

Kid in a candy store. Think about something you want but never think would ever happen to you. For me, it would be meeting my idol, Louis Armstrong. The shock and awe from that moment would leave me speechless and probably a bit bewildered, to say the least. Jimmy Stewart’s character, Jefferson Smith, has a very similar position as he has been chosen to fill a Senate seat. The wide-eyed look he has is akin to taking a country kid, who never gets out, to the big city. That innocence is also what drives his character and makes the audience appreciate him that much more.

Scatter like rats. I found humor watching the press scatter with every sentence that was uttered in the Senate chamber. Taking into account that this is only a film, I can’t help but wonder how much is rooted in actual fact. I can just see the press of today going out to make a call on their phones. Actually, they probably wouldn’t even have to go out, just type it up on their laptops or send a text, but back in these days they had to scatter like rats and roaches, which is basically all the press is anyway.

Powerful. Back when I first got cable, I would just randomly flip through channels, not necessarily looking for anything, but because I could. Occasionally, I’d come across C-Span and would see the people standing there prattling on about something or other. Little did I know that they were filibustering. What does this have to do with anything? Well, the most powerful and penultimate scene in this film is where Jefferson Smith, who has been framed, begins talking to the Senate in an attempt to clear his name. After some squabbling amongst the Senators, he pulls out what appears to be a speech, some fruit, and a thermos and goes on to talk for nearly 24 hours. It takes a driven man to do this, and a great actor to portray him. Watching him give everything he had in an effort to defend himself will show you why this film is held in such high regard.

What didn’t I like?

Corruption. Government is corrupt. Today’s society knows that probably more than at any other time in history, save for the gangster era. However, I think the problem we have today is between the parties. Back then, though, it seemed as if one man was able to control the entire system. How is this possible? Can a governor wield this much power? I know that I wouldn’t want my governor doing such. Hell, he already has tried to shut down colleges, bankrupt poor college kids, and end public schools. I’m sure he has something else up his sleeve before his term is over. Back to the Governor in the film, though. This guy is almost like a crime boss with the amount of power he has. He’s even able to control things in Washington. Again, this is a Governor controlling all of this!!!

Turncoat. If ever there was a sympathetic villain, I think it would be Senator Paine. This is the guy from the same state  as Jefferson Smith, was best friends with his dad, and took the guy under his wing. Then this business of Willett Creek came up and we found out his true colors…or did we? Paine, who was a lawyer before becoming a Senator, goes on the attack, drumming up phony documents that frame Smith for owning the land where he wants to build his camp, and this is just the beginning. From that point on, Paine twists the knife deeper and deeper into Smith’s back, but complains to the Governor how he can’t take it and wants out. Finally, he caves and confesses, but it leaves the audience to question his motives. If he liked the kid so much, why didn’t he confess earlier, rather than constant attacks? Did it really require a near-death experience to get to this revelation?

Sheep. I hear, well see, people talking on Facebook all the time about how “the masses are sheep following a blind leader into destruction that will ultimately end this country” or something like that. Whenever I see something like this, I have to think to myself. Everyone has a brain and they can make up their own mind. No one is being brainwashed. Watching the Senators reaction to Jefferson Smith after the accusations makes me wonder, though. I don’t think there was a man in there that believed Smith, except maybe the Senate President, who had to remain neutral. I find it hard to believe that every single one of these men believed that cock and bull story that was presented to them by the corrupted Senator Paine and the Governor’s payroll (did I mention how his boys threatened and beat up kids to make sure Smith’s name stayed in the mud?). I guess if there were, the film decided not to show any supporters for Smith, except for Saunders, for dramatic effect, but still, that was a bit much. It was like the guy was disliked by all before and then they all just started to hate on him!

Jefferson Smith is the kind of man we need today in Washington. He is proud, idealistic, innocent, and won’t stand for corruption. Unfortunately for us, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is just a movie. Well, not just a movie, a damn great film! I really don’t have much else to say about this flick other than it is something I feel as if I should have watched in high school Civics class as a way to demonstrate filibusters, and to a lesser extent, the Senate in action. Do I recommend this film? Yes, very much so! This is without a doubt one of those film you need to see before you die!

5 out of 5 stars

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3 Responses to “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”

  1. Mystery Man Says:

    Reblogged this on Mr Movie Fiend's Movie Blog.

  2. […] out my Netflix queue and also watch some true classic films. You may recall last year, I tested Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. This year I have a couple of masterpieces lined up, the first is the epic masterpiece, Lawrence of […]

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