After the sudden death of a senator, business mogul Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) and fellow state senator Payne (Claude Rains) attempt to fill the vacant seat with a stooge that will help pass their corrupt bill in the eleventh hour of its vote on the senate floor. Instead, an honest and determined young man, Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) is awarded the seat by the governor. Smith arrives wide-eyed and naive only to be ripped apart once he steps in the way of Taylor’s plan.
Smith’s resilience through the onslaught of lies and corruption is a beacon of hope that good can triumph in the political web of deceit. A premise that seems as farcical as a Marvel movie in this day and age.
Can one person make a difference?
The primary themes throughout Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, are that the right thing is worth fighting for and even one person can make a difference. One person is powerful enough to wield control over others, even politicians and their policies. This is an idea that caused some controversy at the release of the film, politicians and the like did not like this sentiment portrayed on film and saw it as an attack on democracy. By today’s standards the film is comical in that someone would be able to sway the minds of bought politicians.
Political Push back
Apparently, the film received push back just before its release. Many were urging Columbia Pictures to pull the film instead of distributing it. The concerns were rooted in the potentially negative optics of American democracy during a fragile time in the world’s sociopolitical sphere. World War II started in Europe only 6 weeks prior to the release of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Stewart & Capra
Nevertheless, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington showcases James Stewart acting ability as he persuades fellow politicians to believe in his innocence and cause. The role was a relatively early leading role for Stewart and the first one that resulted in a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Acting. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won one, for Best Story. A category that was removed in 1957.
Frank Capra capped off a decade of success. His other successful films of the decade were, Lady for a Day, It Happened One Night (The first film to win all big five Academy Award categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Lost Horizon, and You Can’t Take it With You. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was just the cherry on to of decade of success, before the war took center stage.
Directed by: Frank Capra
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Screenplay by: Sidney Buchman
Editing By: Al Clark & Gene Havlick
Starring: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, & Edward Arnold.
Runtime: 2h 9m
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures