Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)
Reviewed on 2007 February 15
When I was a young girl I remember watching The Man Without a Country in my American Studies class. It was an important lesson, but I think that we should have also seen this. Arguably, this would have been more useful. Despite it’s age it still says a lot about how politics work, as well as the press.
Jimmy Stewart plays Jefferson Smith, ultimate boy scout. Smith is the sweet-natured, naive, almost too-good guy that gets his shoulder tapped to fill an unexpected senate vacancy. He’s a modest soul that leads the Boy Rangers and he’s just a Good Guy with a capital G. Governor Hubert Hopper (Guy Kibbee) thinks about appointing someone else but he hears about Smith from his kids, Rangers who think of him like the kind uncle everyone wants. Hopper employs a time-tested method of making such crucial decisions (hilarious bit) and goes with Smith. Hopper’s crony, Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains), says Smith is an ideal candidate for their purposes. They want a Smith that will look good and warm a chair for them, but not get in the way when they push legislature that will line their own pockets. Besides, he knew Smith’s father and Smith idolizes him. They’re right about Smith being innocent and naive, but they didn’t factor on him fighting hoof and nail when something noble he wants to accomplish is tabled.
The acting is very good, with Stewart being the Wikipedia entry for “decent man”. Jean Arthur is wonderful as Clarissa Saunders, the woman who baby-sits Smith when he arrives on the Hill and initially can’t believe he’s that sweet, even in 1939. Frank Capra may spread things on with a trowel but he does it with charm and heart. It’s corny, it’s dated, it’s almost too sweet, but it’s still a great film.
Three chocolate morsels.