The greatest of all Capra hits!
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a 1939 political comedy drama film directed by Frank Capra, written by Sidney Buchman and Myles Connolly, produced by Columbia Pictures and distributed by Columbia Pictures. The film is based on Lewis R. Foster's unpublished short story, The Gentleman from Montana. It stars Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur. It was nominated for and won Best Original Story, while also being nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (x2), Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Sound. In 1989, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
"I wouldn't give you two cents for all your fancy rules if, behind them, they didn't have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a little looking out for the other fella, too." - Jefferson Smith
After the death of U.S. senator Sam Foley, Governor Happy Hopper appoints boy scout leader Jefferson Smith to the senate. A naive and young Smith arrives in Washington with the highest of morals, but doesn't realize the level of corruption and lies that he must fight against.
The Best Part of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
This movie is a tale of two parts: and the second part is much better. The first half of the film is all about Jeff Smith getting adjusted to Washington and figuring out how to navigate being a U.S. senator. The second half actually feels like a story, with proper stakes, characters, motivations, etc. I never thought I would say this, but the senate hearing in this film is actually ridiculously thrilling. You want Jeff Smith to win, and watching him fight for what he believes in is inspiring and exciting. The screenwriters cracked the code and figured out how to make a 30-minute scene with people talking about the law really, really intense and exciting. That was impressive.
The Worst Part of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
The first half of this movie is an absolute slog. It's uninteresting. It's not amusing in the slightest. This film is over 80 years old, so it's understandable that the attempted comedy doesn't really hold up. Like other films that I've reviewed from this era (Citizen Kane, Modern Times), this movie is very much a product of its time, and that will make it boring and lame for most modern audiences. The second half of the film is great. The first half is pretty rough.
Why Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Works Overall
Like I said, this movie is not for modern audiences. But, if you can hang in there for the first half, you are rewarded with a really enticing second half that delivers on tension and story. Jimmy Stewart gives a great performance that gives you all sides of his character: he's funny and charming and naive, but he also has this emotion and depth to him that doesn't get lost in the charm and charisma. I watched this in my AP Gov class, and my knowledge of the senate and the government in general definitely boosted my experience with this movie, so take that with a grain of salt. But, for a 30s movie, this is definitely more entertaining than I expected.
Final Thoughts and Score
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a movie with a really bad first half, but the second half is so good and rewarding that it is definitely worth a watch.
I will go Savory here. Age range is 7+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good)
Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)
"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"
Fun Factor: 7/10
Directed by Frank Capra
Released on October 17, 1939
2 hours and 9 minutes
Jimmy Stewart as Jefferson Smith
Jean Arthur as Clarissa Saunders
Claude Rains as Senator Joe Paine
Edward Arnold as Boss Jim Taylor
Guy Kibbee as Governor Happy Hopper
Harry Carey as the President of the Senate