Saturday, September 23, 2006

Saturday Night Movie Classic: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

This is my absolute favorite movie of all time. I love it and never tire of watching it.

From Wikipedia:

When it was first released, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was attacked as an anti-American pro-Communist film for its portrayal of corruption in the American government.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
is one of the most popular films about American politics. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards upon its release, the film made James Stewart a major movie star. It also starred Jean Arthur and Claude Rains, as well as a bevy of well-known supporting actors, among them Edward Arnold, Guy Kibbee, Charles Lane, and Thomas Mitchell.

The film was directed by Frank Capra and is classic "Capra corn". It was written by Lewis R. Foster and Sidney Buchman.

It has been deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

The movie opens with the governor of an unnamed state, Hubert Hopper (Guy Kibbee), about to pick a replacement to fill the unexpired term of a deceased Senator. His corrupt political boss, Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold), wants him to choose his handpicked stooge. Popular committees want him to name a reform candidate. The governor's children want him to select Jefferson Smith, the head of the Boy Rangers. The governor, unable to make up his mind between the reformer and the political crony, decides to flip a coin. When it lands on its side - and next to a newspaper opened to a story on one of Smith's accomplishments to boot - he chooses Smith, calculating that his clean image will please the people while his naivete will make him malleable to the political machine.

Smith is taken under the wing of the publicly esteemed, but secretly crooked, Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains), whom he admires because he was his late father's oldest and best friend. The press in Washington vilify Smith as being a bumpkin, having no business in Washington. Paine, to keep Smith busy, suggests he propose a bill.

The bill Smith comes up with would authorize the government to buy some land in his home state for a national boys' camp, to be paid for from donations. This same piece of land is part of a graft scheme by the Taylor machine.

The machine, using Paine as its mouthpiece, accuses Smith of graft and produces much fraudulent evidence. When Smith is given the opportunity to defend himself, he is too broken-hearted by Paine's betrayal and runs away. However, his cynical aide Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur) has come to believe in him and talks him into launching a filibuster on the Senate floor just before the vote to expel him. While Smith talks, his constituents try to rally around him. But the entrenched political opposition is too powerful and all attempts are crushed. On Taylor's orders, newspapers and radio stations in Smith's home state refuse to report what Smith has to say, and even twist the facts to capitulate the scheme against him. Even an effort by the Boy Rangers to spread the news results in vicious attacks by Taylor's hoodlums against the children.

Although all hope seemed lost in his home state, the senators begin to pay attention despite Smith's utter exhaustion and the hoarseness of his voice. Paine has one more card up his sleeve. He brings in bins of letters and telegrams from Smith's home state from people demanding his expulsion. Nearly broken by the news, he finds a small ray of hope in a friendly smile from the President of the Senate (Harry Carey). He vows to press on until people believe him, but he immediately collapses. Senator Paine leaves the Senate chamber and, overcome with guilt, attempts to kill himself. When he is stopped, he bursts back into the Senate chamber, loudly confesses to the whole scheme and confirms Smith's innocence.

Smith's filibuster and the tacit encouragement of the Senate President are both emblematic of the director's belief in the difference that one individual can make. This theme would be expanded even further in Capra's It's a Wonderful Life.

Audio Clip: Senator Smith (Jimmy Stewart) debates Senator Pain (Claude Rains)


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