• FlickJunkie-26 June 2000
    A National Treasure
    James Stewart and Frank Capra. One needn't know much more going in to be assured that this will be an enjoyable film. Together they take on the Washington elite with this dramatic comedy about a naïve Washington outsider who gets appointed to the Senate and stands alone against corruption and graft. Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) is appointed from an unnamed state after one of its Senators dies. He is appointed because the political fat cats need someone who will not seem like a crony, but who will not stand in the way of a graft scheme for a pork barrel dam that will make bigwig Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) millions. When the wide eyed Smith gets to Washington, he discovers the corrupt bill because the dam will stand in the way of his own proposed bill for a children's camp. When he tries to stop the project, Taylor's political machine frames him to make it seem like he is the one taking graft. This leads to the dramatic confrontation in the Senate, where Smith filibusters in an attempt to get the truth out.

    This film is wonderful in so many ways. The story is a classic struggle between good and evil. In typical Capra style, the protagonist and antagonists are exaggerated so there is no confusion as to who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. If there is one clear message in Capra's films it is that those with strong moral fiber never give up hope. He likes to create utterly hopeless situations for characters to test their integrity, and rewards unswerving adherence to basic values and principles by triumph against the odds.

    I was dismayed to see a comment, obviously from a young viewer of this film, that said that the characters weren't realistic because no one used profanity. This is a sad testimonial to our culture, when it inconceivable to young people that there was once a time when profanity was the exception and not the rule.

    Stewart is brilliant as the idealistic and awe struck kid from the backwoods who is overwhelmed by the glory of Washington, with its monuments and history. The story brings us a confrontation between political expediency and idealistic principles with the message that the truly great men are the ones that don't compromise their principles to hold on to power. Stewart also brings a whole treasure chest of bumbling comedic sight gags that make him all the more lovable in the part.

    Jean Arthur is fabulous as the tough and savvy assistant who is jaded by Washington politics, but gets a fresh injection of fervor as she listens to Smith's noble homespun philosophies. Claude Rains is also masterful as the adulterated Senator, who sold his soul to corruption for a chance at the presidency. He plays the simultaneous sense of guilt and ambition with a torment that is clearly ripping his heart out, and the power of both emotions portrayed in his performance makes his character both repugnant and pitiable.

    This film is a national treasure. It is in my top 50 list of all time. The story of corruption in politics and the greatness of the men who resist it is timeless and would not be lost on the politicians in Washington today. A 10/10.
  • stuartpiles1 May 2006
    It works in a way no other movie could, THERE IS PROOF
    Now, I must admit that this is one of my top five favorite films. There is a warmth, idealism, and kinda simple feeling of hope, that makes one believe that things will work out in the end. Capra knew exactly what he wanted, and it shines. Jimmy Stewart, in the role of his life, makes us believe, what we know is almost impossible in todays crass world.

    Claude Rains is incredible as Senator Smith's evil mentor. Jean Arthur, as his confidant, plays the part so well,that we just want her to save the day.

    The final scene, where the filibuster is taking place, is among the greatest ever made.


    In the early 80s, I showed this film, over three days, to a group of 15 year old inner city teenagers. I taught Political Science in a very difficult school in Chicago. It was a new class, and not all of the "best" students took it.

    I decided to show this film at the end of the year, just to see how long I could keep the students attention. I didn't expect much. Fifteen is a very tough age to keep any kind of attention span, and it was at the end of the day, 2:30 -3:15 pm. which made things worse. As the film began, there was rustling in the seats, boredom, that famous oh what a waste of time look...Mind you, this is 43 year old film, about a white Senator, in those "old" days, and being shown to a totally Afro-American crowd of 15 year olds, late in the day, (over a three day period, which meant the students would have to wait till the next day to see what was going on. ..By the end of the third day, Capra had worked his magic, and the entire class was spellbound by this film. They were there till the very end, and you could see how much they enjoyed seeing a film, that they wouldn't have looked at in a thousand years..Comments were wonderful. Any film that could accomplish this, more than 40 years after its conception, to a crowd that no one would believe would have any interest in, deserves to be truly called a "great film."
  • tfrizzell30 April 2004
    Want to Get Your View Across? Why Not Filibuster?
    The media and those in Washington, D.C. cringed in 1939 when Frank Capra (Oscar-nominated for directing) come out with "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington". Capra, fresh off amazing successes like "Lady for a Day", "It Happened One Night", "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town", "Lost Horizon" and "You Can't Take It With You", used his power to slap some bigwigs in the face with a powerful medium---the motion picture. The result was an immediate backlash by publications and politicians, but cheers from critics and the audience. As with society, the critics and the masses won out as the movie is a masterpiece in every way. A U.S. Senate vacancy leads to a dilemma. Who should be put in office? Everyone believes the apparently naive and gullible James Stewart (Oscar-nominated) is the logical choice because he will be easy to manipulate and he won't rock the boat. Stewart, the leader of the Boy Rangers (a local camp association for youngsters), gets blind-sided by many high-ranking officials who have alterior motives (Oscar nominees Harry Carey and Claude Rains in particular) when his idea for a national boys' camp goes by the wayside. Thus the only thing left for Stewart is to beat those in charge by beating them at their own game---creating a filibuster (a never-ending governmental argument for his cause). Stewart is solid as always here and the supporters (love interest/reporter Jean Arthur and drunk newspaper man Thomas Mitchell included with the aforementioned players) are all terrific throughout. The Oscar-winning screenplay is deceptively intelligent and Capra just had the uncanny ability to mix comedy, drama and interpersonal characterizations together to make consistently wonderful American film experiences. 5 stars out of 5.
  • lenndogg2 June 1999
    Required viewing for anyone elected or appointed for public office.
    Since the beginning of the art form, movies have generally fallen into two categories: the realistic, and the fantastic (fantasy-based). There are some that point out that the films of Frank Capra unduly fall into the latter, that they are completely far-fetched and fastened in their own time, and even invented a pejorative term "Capra-esque" to describe any non-cynical, heartwarming picture that has a message. His great films, like It Happened One Night, It's a Wonderful Life, and of course, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, however, are not fixed in a single era, but all eras, the truest definition of a classic. And considering it was released among true powerhouses in 1939, a year as important to movies as 1998 was to baseball, its ideals, story, and general excellence shine as bright today as it did over 60 years ago.

    A Senator from an unnamed, middle America state dies and a new one must be appointed by Governor Hubert Hopper, a puppet whose strings are held by newspaper magnate Jim Taylor. They need to find one that would be easily controlled by the now-senior Senator Joseph Paine (played brilliantly by Claude Rains), so a bill allowing a building of a dam near land by the Willett Creek owned by Taylor can pass in the Senate. After his initial choice is rejected by Taylor, and Taylor's handpicked man is shot down by the public, the governor chooses Jefferson Smith, played to perfection by James Stewart, a boy scout leader and local hero who is both wholly idealistic in his patriotism for America but naive and blind to the actual process. After he gets embarrassed by the local print media, Mr. Smith begins to learn the harsh realities of DC. Paine, Smith's boyhood hero, takes him under his wing and suggests that Smith try to create a bill. Smith agrees, and with his assistant, Clarissa Saunders (played by Jean Arthur), they create a bill to create a campground for boys from all over the country to learn about each other and the civic process, much to the initial dissuasion by Saunders. Smith then wants to choose a site near the Willett Creek, the same site where the dam is to be built and when his superiors and true string-pullers find that out, major complications ensue.

    Although the basic premise is David vs. Goliath, the story is wholly originally and was probably one of the earliest pictures to suggest the government as corrupt. The characters are played excellently by all principal actors, with Mr. Smith you root for whole-heartedly, Mr. Taylor you root against for his sheer arrogance and greed, and Mr. Paine, who you pity as you see a man who lost his initial zest to serve the public and is now a jaded shell of his former self. A great performance was given by Harry Carey, Sr., who plays the Vice President/President of the Senate for comic relief. The lines where completely believable and the parts of Smith's final filibuster that were shown give the most impact. There is a beautifully shot scene with images of the monuments and sights of Washington with several national anthems synchronized as the score. The climax is as tension-packed as drama can get, and while the ending may seem rather sudden, and everything isn't completely or neatly resolved, it works perfectly and ends the movie on a happy note.

    Obviously, few if any people elected to public office has the moral character, conviction, and general good heartedness of Jefferson Smith, and I doubt whether the government would be better if it was. The movie showed an ideal, a supposed "lost cause" of truth in government. And although it is next to impossible for Capra and the eternal good guy Jimmy Stewart to ever fully change the world of politics with just a motion picture, at least it shows that maybe once in a great while, being the good guy has its definite rewards. If (using the same analogy of the 1998 baseball season) The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind were the Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa of 1939 moviemaking, then this would be like Cal Ripken voluntarily ending his Iron Man Streak, something done with full class and the highest respect in mind, and that elevates an ideal of being the good guy and sticking to your dedication brings the greatest of riches. This picture is flawless in all respects and a true classic, with thought-provoking ideas, wit, a little bit of platonic romance, and an excellent cinematography and score, and deserves the rank as a 10 out of 10. And in giving this rating, either I'm damn right or I'm crazy.
  • Snow Leopard27 September 2004
    Capra & Stewart Make It Work Very Well
    Frank Capra and James Stewart were nearly unsurpassed at the task of taking the kind of story that is optimistic but that borders on being trite, and making it into a satisfying, worthwhile movie. In "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington", they accomplish this with a little help from Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, and Edward Arnold. It's not quite on the level of "It's a Wonderful Life", but it is as good as almost anything else of its kind.

    Stewart's performance is important right from the beginning - hardly anyone else could have been believable as the earnest unknown who suddenly becomes an important political figure. Even his wide-eyed appreciation for what he sees in Washington comes across believably. As the story gets more complicated and his character is developed further, Stewart is even better.

    The secondary characters are also important, because the story itself is a rather stylized, though still worthwhile, statement about politics. The characters are more believable than are many of the plot developments. Rains contributes a lot as Stewart's troubled colleague, and Jean Arthur is a natural for this kind of role. Arnold plays his devious character well. Capra holds it all together with his craftsmanship, keeping the story on track and getting the most out of the situation.
  • MisterWhiplash20 May 2006
    drifts in and out of comedy and sincerity with the greatest of ease
    It was a lot of fun watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in a class where the professor noted how this was the sort of film that was of historical importance while not taking itself too seriously. And I think that's the way Frank Capra wanted it, in a sense. Perhaps in the time of 1939 America this film was seen as being of merit to the American Government's due (though according to the trivia, it was denounced at showing corruption and even banned for showing how democracy "works"). But the director is also wanting to make an entertaining movie, of the kind of Hollywood appeal that brings 8-to-80 years olds in attendance. What had me interested throughout, particularly in that climactic, rousing twenty-minute sequence in the Senate with Jimmy Stewart's constant, un-faltering filibuster, is how it really is a patriotic kind of bravura to be shown on the screen. Here is how it SHOULD be done, to an extreme perhaps, in getting things done in government. But at the same time, Capra keeps it entirely watchable with that group of kids up on the balcony, keeping the audience laughing and smiling all the way through the great lines that Stewart says. "Great principles don't get lost once they come to light. They're right here; you just have to see them again!" This is a kind of talent that I'm sure few other filmmakers at the time, or even after, could have pulled off.

    The rest of the film isn't just Stewart's struggle to be heard as a young, new-in-town senator. It's also a witty, more often than not true look of how government tends to really work as opposed to how it should. Basically, the core of the story is the fish-out-of-water type, where Stewart's Jefferson Smith (one of his better Hollywood performances), leader of the Boy Rangers is called to be the senator of his state. He has a childhood hero in town in the form of a senior senator (Claude Rains, terrific as always). And there's even a woman (Jean Arthur) in the mix that's growing an interest in him, at first dubious. But despite the corruption that is almost thrust upon smith by Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold, as skilled a character actor as could be asked for), Smith fights it all the way to his final filibuster, which includes a reading from the Constitution, in-and-out cheers from the Boy Rangers, and general guffaws from the other senators. In other words, it's really much in that pure spirit of Frank Capra that 'Mr. Smith' is working in, and even at its cheesiest and sometimes most-dated moments, it's a very successful picture for what it wants to do. It's really an equal-opportunity kind of film about people in politics that should be able decades later to appeal to both the hopeful and the cynical, and it works as good as it does a comedy as it does a piece to show in history of film or American government course.
  • Jennydavis13118 May 2004
    an honest film
    Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a wonderful film about a man Jeff Smith (James Stewart) who believes that children are the future and should be able to enjoy the outdoors, while taking in knowledge of their great Country. When a senator dies in Smith's state, the governor is forced into an awkward position of electing the new senator. While the governor is sitting down to dinner, his young children propose the idea of Jeff Smith who is head of the Boy Rangers and prints a weekly newspaper for the local children. Mr. Smith is elected into office in the funniest way, a coin toss.

    When Mr. Smith arrives in Washington with his colleague Mr. Pain, (Claude Rains) he is amazed by all the greatness that Washington possesses. After being sworn into the Senate Mr. Smith comes up with idea to propose a Bill that would let boys come together and enjoy the wilderness, and the perfect spot would be in his home town next to a creek. What he doesn't know is that his colleague Mr. Pain has his own plans with that same land. The film then releases the full fury of what corrupt politicians can do to a truthful man.

    The plot of the film will grab the viewer within the first five minutes and will not let go until the astonishing end. Even though this type of thing is implausible it's still very funny and unique in its own way.

    The acting was superb! James Stewart will always represent the good guy trying to make his way through life in an honorable way. Claude Rains character was perfect for him, a good man gone bad by the power of politics. Jean Arthur's character was something that isn't normally seen in the movies. She played an ambitious woman trying to get to the top without anyone's help, but is still the great old fashioned woman she was born to be. James Stewart and Jean Arthur were very charismatic together. There could not have been a better pair.

    The lighting in the film was great in two scenes when Mr. Smith is at the Washington memorial the light shines on sentences of the constitution that added a lot to the emotion of the character and helped set the tone for the scene.

    This is a classic film that should be recognized and cherished forever. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a great film for the whole family, the film is not only captivating and genuine but there is also a moral in the story. Definitely a ten out of ten, and should be part of your home video library.
  • perfectbond16 May 2003
    A true classic that lives up to it's reputation
    Mr. Smith is as good as it's legend. Sometimes I'm disappointed when a universally acclaimed movie isn't as enjoyable as I thought it would be. But here, that is not the case. James Stewart is deservedly remembered most for this role. That's saying a lot given his impressive body of work. This is also Frank Capra's signature film along with Mr. Deeds. The idealism of Jefferson Smith might feel a bit anachronisitc today but, and I know this is a cliché, the world could use more people with his values. The supporting cast is also spot on. Jean Arthur plays the same type as she did in Mr. Deeds and Claude Rains is terrific as the mentor who betrays Smith. Strongly recommended, 9/10.
  • Neil Doyle1 August 2003
    Capra-corn but very watchable with some great performances...
    Frank Capra's knack for getting the best out of JAMES STEWART and JEAN ARTHUR is demonstrated here with both stars giving superb performances. Ironically, Stewart would not win the Oscar for this role but was awarded one the following year for a lesser role in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.

    As a bumbling, naive senator who is a lamb thrown to the wolves in Washington, D.C., Stewart does a fabulous job--although there are moments when his bumbling awkwardness looks a bit staged. Jean Arthur is a natural for the role of the wise secretary who at first scorns his innocent ways but soon comes to realize he's the real thing.

    All of the supporting players are excellent--especially CLAUDE RAINS as a mentor to Stewart who finally has a conscience about deceiving him, and Harry Carey (the western actor) as the man with the gavel who soon realizes that Stewart is not to be underestimated. His reaction shots, grinning and sometimes stifling a grin, say more than words. He and Rains both deserved their supporting role nominations.

    But, as usual in a Capra film, you have to be willing to forgive some obvious plot contrivances or overall schmaltz. The ending (when it finally comes after some excessive length in running time) is rather abrupt as though the director suddenly realized he'd gone overtime on the story. And some of the sentimentality (such as the scene where Arthur joins him at the Lincoln Memorial where she knew she'd find him), is hard to swallow until you remind yourself that--hey, this is Capra-corn.

    Nevertheless, despite some flaws, it's the kind of comedy-drama about Washington, D.C. that only a director like Capra could make. And the replica of the Senate is amazingly detailed, as are all the interiors which were shot on a soundstage at Columbia. It's also a nice lesson in how the Senate works, how bills have to go through committees, the rules of behavior, filibustering, etc. It will leave you with a warm glow--somewhat like IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE in that respect.

    Summing up: It's Stewart's show all the way. He's at his peak here.
  • Gambitt5 November 2008
    A bit absurd, but still enjoyable and relevant today
    Warning: Spoilers
    In "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," a U.S. senator suddenly passes away, and Mr. Smith is tapped to fill the position. Unbeknownst to the honest, decent Smith, he is intended merely to be a puppet of the powerful forces that already control the state's governor and its other Congressmen. Smith collides head-on with these forces and must fight to save himself and his values from destruction in the public arena.

    "Mr. Smith," directed by Frank Capra, is not meant to be very realistic. The basic plot and characters of Mr. Smith are borderline ridiculous. Smith goes beyond naive, to the point of appearing ignorant and lacking in common sense at times. He seems to have the civics education of a 2nd-grader. Everything in the movie is exaggerated to the extremes.

    Capra's D.C. is likewise a caricature. The U.S. Senate is a united front of entrenched cronyism. They move as one nonpartisan mass, always supporting each other in their mutual corruption. The media is easily herded into line, an interpretation that probably strikes closer to truth, although that system today has been undermined by the Internet.

    Still, if the true Washington is not quite as fraudulent as Copra's version, there's no doubt that it is probably perceived that way by many Americans today. The film touches upon real issues that affect modern politics. It's amazing how relevant certain lines and scenes remain after all these years, perhaps more so today.

    What did bug me about the film was its shamelessly idealistic view of small-town American heroes like Mr. Smith. Like a Bruckenheimer movie where Billy boy and Jim Bob from the ranch save the planet, "Mr. Smith" sometimes comes off as a self-congratulatory pat on the back to the common man. It rails against the elitism and special interest of Washington, a popular sentiment today.

    This might not bother me so much except that this country is just coming off an extended experiment of putting a "commoner" in a government seat of critical importance and things didn't turn out so hot. As nasty, cold, and dirty as it may seem to place a compromising politician into DC, that may be preferable to putting an "oh shucks, well, golly gee, I dunno" kinda guy into a position of major responsibility.

    This country has a low tolerance for corruption. It has an even lower tolerance of incompetence.
  • ackstasis2 March 2007
    "Either I'm dead right, or I'm crazy!"
    Patriotic, stirring, uplifting, absolutely mesmerizing… Here are just a few words that can be used to describe Frank Capra's brilliant 1939 film, 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.' Bringing together a stellar cast of both fresh and seasoned actors, Capra manages to reach into each of our chests, and wrench almost painfully at our heartstrings.

    Jefferson Smith (James Stewart, 'It's A Wonderful Life'), is a young, enthusiastic patriot who resides in an unnamed American state, but is known throughout it (most especially by the young boys of the region) as an unsung hero. Head of the Boy Rangers, Smith has a love of his country and of nature, once quenching a potentially devastating forest fire single-handedly. After the unexpected death of a current Senator, Governor Hubert Hopper (Guy Kibbee) is forced to choose a replacement. Whilst his corrupt political boss, Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold), urges him to appoint a handpicked stooge, Hopper surprisingly decides to follow the confident advice of his own children, awarding the job to Smith.

    Smith arrives in Washington, excited and idealistic, no doubt modestly considering himself to be unsuitable for such a prestigious position. He is proud to accompany the other current state Senator, Joseph Harrison Paine (Claude Rains, 'Notorious'), a highly-esteemed man who was once great friends with Smith's father. Unbeknownst to Smith, however, Paine had long ago abandoned his political ideals, seduced by the promise of power and political longevity to make "certain compromises." Whilst Smith works tirelessly to submit a bill regarding the creation of a national boy's camp at Willet Creek, which he hopes will teach a new generation the value of freedom and liberty, the devious Paine schemes to dam that same locality, an act that will serve nobody but the power-hungry Jim Taylor. When Paine's cynical secretary, Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur), informs Smith of these plans, he determinedly attempts to speak his mind, only to be quashed by the almighty "Taylor Machine."

    Frank Capra, who had previously supplied Columbia Pictures Corporation with two Academy Award Best Picture winners ('It Happened One Night,' 1934 and 'You Can't Take It With You,' 1938), once again proved his undeniable genius, something he would continue to do throughout his film-making career. One often-cited example involves the romantically-awkward Smith's second encounter with Paine's beautiful daughter, Susan (Astrid Allwyn). Rather than focusing on faces, as would be the typical style for such a scene, Capra keeps the camera firmly on Smith's hat, as he restlessly shuffles it between his fingers, frequently dropping it to the floor and stooping to reclaim it. This shot tells us more about Smith than any facial close-up ever could!

    Finally, James Stewart is unquestionably brilliant as the young, idealistic Smith, in one of his first critically recognised roles. The look of absolute awe and wonderment on his face upon first witnessing the Capitol Dome appears truly genuine, despite the fact that Stewart was merely acting against a projection. For his highly memorable filibuster speech at the climax of the film, Stewart dried out his throat with bicarbonate of soda to make himself sound hoarse, an act that could potentially have destroyed his later ability to speak. As we witness Jefferson Smith, ragged and exhausted, determinedly continuing to shout hoarsely at the Senate members, we immediately understand that his voice is reaching much, much further. He is not just shouting at the Senate, but he is shouting at the people; he is shouting at his country; he is shouting at us. And we are right there alongside him, quietly urging him along.
  • Blondeatheart5629 April 2004
    This movie is awesome! No complaints here!
    `Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' is not as well known of a movie as it should be. It is a very good movie that is very interesting and a very good way to learn how some things involving the Senate work. This reviewer absolutely loved this movie and wishes she could run out and buy it right now. It definitely grabs the audience's attention and keeps it there. While watching this movie, this reviewer was laughing, smiling, getting really, really angry, learning, and even getting a little teary-eyed. How can a movie that brings out all those different emotions in someone not be great, or even spectacular! `Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' is definitely one of the best movies ever made despite the fact that it is mostly about politics! It's still interesting!

    While watching this movie, the audience might be thinking that the acting isn't half bad and is actually quite realistic. They would be right too! All of the acting is really very good and it draws the audience in and keeps them in. This movie was so close to not having one single cheesy line or unbelievable acting job that it's really a shame that it did. At the very end of the movie Saunders, played by , stands up from her seat in the balcony and yells `Stop Jeff! Stop!' and then falls to the floor. The line and the way says it is very, very cheesy and something the audience might find themselves laughing at. That line is just about the only time in the entire movie where the acting was lacking. James Stewart was, of course, phenomenal. He is a very good actor and one that should be remembered for a very long time. He's awesome!

    The only other not so great thing about `Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' is the ending. It's a happy ending but, well, it just ends. It's an abrupt ending. It ends so abruptly that the audience isn't even expecting it to end when it does. It has one of those endings where the audience knows a bunch of things that will be happening, they just aren't shown happening. This reviewer doesn't really care for those kind, it is much better when you get to see the things carried out. Although the ending could have been better `Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' is still an awesome movie and the ending doesn't take away from that at all!

    This movie is so great that every person in the world should be able to see it because it is definitely worth the time it takes to see it.
  • dm-85 January 1999
    Keep an eye on Jean Arthur!
    Besides a brilliantly written story, and brilliant acting by James Stewart, there is one element of this movie that can't be overlooked: Jean Arthur's acting.

    With her voice and facial expressions, she pulls you through the storyline. The movie may be about Mr. Smith (Stewart), but much of it is seen through Saunder's (Arthur's) eyes. When she falls in love with Smith, we can't help but do it too.

    This is Capra's opus, and contains not one, but two of the best acting performances I've ever seen.
  • ACitizenCalledKane18 January 2005
    Idealism vs. "the machine"
    The theme of one man being able to combat the ways of a long-established system is not a new one. In fact, man versus machine is one of the oldest forms of conflict in cinema, but this is a different kind of "machine," this "Taylor Machine." When a young, naive, and idealistic man by the name of Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) is placed, as a pawn, in the United States Senate, he is honored and humbled by the job set out before him. He sees it as an opportunity to provide a service for his country, and, even more so, his people. In Jefferson Smith, we see everything that is good and wholesome in America. One man who wishes for nothing more than an improvement upon a country that he already cherishes. He intends to do everything he can to fulfill his duty as a newly appointed Senator. However, the people that put him there were not nearly as patriotic in their intentions. Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) and Senator Joseph Harrison Paine (Claude Rains) have conspired to put Smith in office in hopes that he will simply sit there and keep quiet while they pass a bill that will profit Taylor. Smith's dream of building a national boy's camp is shattered by Taylor's scheme to build a dam in the same area. The powerful Jim Taylor is forced to pull some strings in order to discredit the young senator so that his dam can be built. The Taylor Machine frames Smith, accusing him of fraud. Shamed, Smith is ready to leave Washington behind when his assistant, Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur) inspires him to fight for his ideals just as his forefathers had. Smith returns to congress, armed with a new strategy to accomplish his goal.

    James Stewart gives one of his finest performances as Jefferson Smith, the young, passionately patriotic Senator confronting corruption in the government he holds so dear. Jean Arthur's performance as Clarissa Saunders is strong, while Claude Rains is forced to counter Stewart's inspired intensity (a feat that I feel he accomplishes). The filibuster scene is one of the highlights of the film, and one of the more memorable sequences in American cinema. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a wonderful movie, not just because of James Stewart's relentless performance, but because it has quite a bit to say. It is a statement declaring that ideals are stronger than the pages they are printed on, and that it is our ideals and the spirit through which we see them realized that allows one man to topple "the machine."
  • Box_o_Chocolates31 October 2004
    Wow. (may be spoilers)
    Warning: Spoilers
    I admit that I just saw this movie very recently and approached it as a typical teenager would in this day and age. But I forgot how much I love Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life" (one of my all time favorites) and how much I love Frank Capra. Well, obviously I ended up falling in love with this movie, too.

    Of course, it's not a typical movie like we'd see in theaters today. I'm not sure why people rate it based on that. Old movies should be treated with more respect! They didn't have the technology that we did now, and the most advance things they could do were corny montages. :) Really, I found a lot of things funny in this movie that shouldn't have been. (but I tend to laugh more than anything; life is just better that way) The boys in the entire movie were hilarious. They were just...so strange. And for some reason, it was okay for angry politicians to ram their huge truck into the boys' car. And it was okay for Jimmy-boy to run around the streets punching people. But in the end, I believe those parts made the movie more enjoyable!

    The music, the acting, the directing..it was all top notch in my opinion. Well, the music was a bit too patriotic at times, but that was very appropriate. Jean Arthur was very cute and played her role quite well. And, for some reason, I fell in love with Claude Rains voice..which means I fell in love with his character. I had to convince myself that there was some good in him, and I was right. The story was just fine. (a lot better than a lot of movies around today! oy!) We went over the corniness...and the plot may have been a bit predictable, but I really wanted it to end well. Good needs to defeat evil in the end. And sure, the ending may seem a bit abrupt, but what can they say after that? All is well!

    A very good movie. I'd recommend it to ANYONE..you might just be surprised. (hey, can you believe it? I really hate history and I enjoyed this movie!)
  • denscul2 December 2006
    Critics and box office success. Why do I have a problem?
    Warning: Spoilers
    Frank Capra's fans give Capra high marks for his film making. He was a great Director. But Capra's detractors said he was known for his "corn" rather than art. If truth is art, then Capra fails, not to entertain, but as a truth teller. Capra is one of the first "message" directors. In this movie, he goes against the Washington establishment, political hacks and powers behind the throne. The sad fact is that nothing has changed because human nature has not changed.

    Capra creates the Character of Jefferson Smith, played by Jimmy Stewart in an great performance. The supporting cast performs as well under the direction of Capra. Whether Capra or the writers are to blame is not known, but the Smith character is a caricature of a real person. And because he is not real and the story is not reality. If this movie was considered a comedy, so be it, but critics have had 60 plus years to consider this movie as a significant comment on good versus evil.

    Stewart's character is chosen by a shallow Governor to fill a US Senate seat and his choice is not "the best candidate" for the job. Nothing unbelievable in that, , but Smith's character is stretched beyond belief. To become a US Senator, you must be at least 30 years old. Smith is introduced as someone with the maturity of a 15 year old. With no wife, no girl friend; he acts like a 15 year old when introduced to mature women. Taking a tour of Washington leaving his homing pigeons to the care of others, is also the behavior of an adolescent. Capra wants us to believe that adolescence is synonymous with honesty. It is not. Nor was his striking journalists who portrayed him as a dope.

    Somehow this idealistic character takes on the corruption of the world in the form of a junior Senator and conquers all. And discovers love and gets the girl in the end. If you like vintage syrup, this movie is right for you. Just remember, its just a movie, and in real life, the bad guys usually win.
  • blanche-226 January 2006
    Mr. Smith learns about politics the hard way
    What a wonderful film. What an exaggerated, corny, fantastic, beautifully acted, exciting, wonderful film.

    "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is a classic for good reason. It reinforces qualities that many of us have lost along the way: idealism, strong, unshakable belief, never quitting, honesty, and commitment. Today, patriotism and "American values" have taken on another connotation. They have become the property of the right wing. But there isn't anything wrong with the kind of patriotism and American values expressed by Jefferson Smith, which are different from what is being expressed today.

    Is anyone today as idealistic as Mr. Smith was when he first came to Washington? Can one really win against a powerful force like the Taylor machine? As one who was involved in a legal case where the other side had all the clout and all the money, I sadly have to answer that I don't think so. In the real world, as Court TV has taught us, things don't work that way. Is anyone as corrupt as Senator Paine and Jim Taylor? Sadly, I'd have to say probably. Would they ruin anyone who got in their way? Yes. Have they? Definitely.

    "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is a fantasy, but it's a fantasy that uplifts us and reminds us of what we could be and, like Jean Arthur says in the film, maybe being jaded isn't such a good idea all the time.

    James Stewart had the role of a lifetime, and he was perfect. Homespun, intelligent, boyishly good-looking, his career and tremendous popularity even today speak for themselves. His filibuster scenes are incredible, passionate, and strong. We were lucky we had him as long as we did. There will never be another. Jean Arthur was fabulous in her role as a streetwise assistant who finds something to believe in. Claude Rains, as the unlikable, weak Senator Paine, gives a powerful performance. The bad guys - and Capra always makes sure they're real bad - were all great. As for Harry Carey, the sympathetic speaker, you want to hug him. A fantastic job.

    Frank Capra knew how to make movies. The pace is swift, the story strong, and the scenes tense and exciting. One gets caught up in the world he fashions. A shame it isn't real.
  • lutheranchick6 October 2012
    This film is a study of a Good Guy, who wants funding to start a national boys' camp for the "Boy Rangers", going against the Bad Guys, who want to build a dam on the same land only for their own selfish interests (not hydro-electricity or anything, you fool). You may ask why taxpayers would want to pay for a camp only a few of the nation's boys could live near; you may ask why the camp couldn't be built on a different piece of land; you may ask why a private organization should get federal funds; you may ask if there were any issues that constituents would have found more pressing. Well, apparently that's because you're one of the Bad Guys too.
  • bob the moo1 April 2003
    Modern politics have taken it's dream from it but it is still a good film
    With the passing of his stooge senator, Senator Paine and his businessman bosses need a new patsy to help get a bill through congress. When their party man is rejected they select the all-American Jefferson Smith, reasoning that he will be too overawed and just do what he is told. At first Smith does just that, but then his plans to build a boy's camp on the site of the dam Paine is pushing through congress, makes him realise that Paine is pushing a bill through for the benefit of Taylor's business. A new boy with high ideals of democracy at this level, Smith takes action, but can he overcome the crooked political system that is controlled by Taylor?

    Apparently when this was first made it was accused of being anti-American in it's depiction of congressmen as anything except honest, God fearing men of the people. Nowadays it is more likely to be the case that the depiction of only ONE politician as `in bed with business' or `remote from the people' makes it look like a fantasy. But it is a fantasy – an ode to the American Dream. Smith is an honest lad who is picked for Congress, holds to it's ideals with a childlike wonder and overcomes anything that is `un-American'. As a story it works well in a sappy type of way. For me there was a little too much awe and wonder at the American system but I suppose it comes with the territory. The actual political games are enjoyable if a little simplified, and the final 20-odd minute filibuster is enjoyable despite not quite ending with the punch I was hoping for.

    Stewart plays his idealistic American boy well and his wide eyed wonder never fails to work. Jean Arthur is good as the `tough city girl won over by his honesty and charm' and her sassy way helps liven some of the duller spells. Rains and Arnold are good in their roles as politician and businessman who bought the vote. The whole cast do well but it is Stewart who sets the tone with his awe and wonder – good, but maybe could have been toned down a little to reduce the sentimentality that comes up every time he reads the bill of rights.

    Overall this is a good film. Typical fantasy stuff from Capra but heart warming in a way. It probably suffers little bit because it is hard to accept that politicians are basically good peoples. Where `it's a wonderful life' was uplifting because it was about human nature, this didn't have the same impact because I don't believe that politicians are like Smith in anyway (watching Bush and Blair stampeding through the UN with total disregard for democracy took some of the shine off this movie). Still a good movie though.
  • edwagreen7 March 2006
    Mr. Smith-Where are You? Do We Need You Today? ****
    James Stewart was simply magnificent in this memorable classic of a dedicated young politician who is appointed to the senate following the death of his state's senator.. He wants to do what is best for his constituents. He soon learns that in Washington this is not to be the case. Corruption, patronage et al are alive and well and functioning.

    Edward Arnold, in a supporting role, is fabulous as the old style political boss. The Stewart character represents what we need as leaders to run this great nation of ours. Some real scene stealing is done by Claude Rains as the other state's senator who has become corrupt. His temperament is perfect for the part. His seething by guilt and his denunciation of his fellow senator shows depth in acting. His outburst at the end of the film is totally memorable. He claims that he has compromised to get what he wants. How far from the truth this really is! Jean Arthur, as the secretary in the know, is truly fabulous as well. Newspapers can learn from this film. They should. Censorship still exists in 2006.

    Remember that great filibuster scene? Stewart acted his heart out. Though he lost the coveted Oscar here, the Academy rewarded him the following year for the comedy "The Philadelphia Story."

    This film should be a definite pre-requisite for students in political science classes.
  • johnfitz1909699 April 2007
    Arguably the most important political movie ever made!
    If I could choose one movie, more than any other, which was not only brilliant, but highly significant, it would be this one. We live an an age when cynicism about politics is rife, when people who get involved to change things for the better are more often than not dismissed as naive; this is a film which everyone who is cynical towards politics should see. It doesn't hide the fact that there is corruption in politics, but it does say quite clearly that there is a point and a value to standing up to it.

    As movie quotes go, Jean Arthur's words to Jeff Smith deserve to be remembered: "Your friend Mr. Lincoln had his Taylors and Paines. So did every other man whoever tried to lift his thought up off the ground. Odds against 'em didn't stop those men. They were fools that way. All the good that ever came into this world came from fools with faith like that." This is a movie which can teach a very valuable lesson, particularly those who despair of modern politics. There is a way forward.
  • manuel-pestalozzi31 May 2007
    Pet projects
    Director Frank Capra is maybe the greatest patriot in American film. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington shows plainly that he cares about national values and that he wants to help consolidate the communitarian spirit.

    For Frank Capra parliamentary democracy, enacted in a monument-studded capital, is a cornerstone of the structure of American values. For him it is, as this movie plainly shows, a matter of the heart. In my opinion, that is bad. Parliamentary democracy spells COMPROMISE. It is a matter of reason. Or else it would not work. That's what is wrong with this movie, it muddles the issue in a dangerous way.

    The protagonists are a young inexperienced Senator (James Stewart) and the big meddler and, so to speak, unofficial King of the Senator's state (Edward Arnold). The King has a pet project, a dam which - if I got that right - he wants to have financed by the Federal Government and from which he will eventually earn a huge profit. If others, not least the population of the concerned state, will also profit in one way or the other from the dam, does not interest anybody. Least the Senator. Because he has his own pet project, a camp for Boy Scouts which he envisions - what a coincidence! - on the very spot on which the aforementioned dam is planned. No wonder he is dead set against it.

    So, is it all about that goddamn dam? I'm afraid it is. For the sake of the two pet projects the legislative process of a whole nation is brought to a complete standstill while the Senator is filibustering - apparently the greatest achievement of American parliamentary democracy. Not the best propaganda for the system, if you think about it. It is hard not to see this as the Senator's selfish fight for an isolated issue, with an absolute disregard for the general whole. That his fight leads to a veritable and truly uncanny „children's crusade" is frightening, not rousing.

    I know, I am probably too harsh on this movie. After all, it is only a movie, and its intentions are unquestionably good. James Stewart is at his stumbling cutest, and Jean Arthur, a truly wonderful actress who holds a special place in my heart, is at moments beautiful beyond belief. But it really worries me that messages which should be addressed to man's intelligence are reduced to an emotional impact.
  • sandra small14 January 2007
    How politicians don't work for democracy.
    In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the legendary Jimmy Stewart plays the naive, and somewhat gullible Mr. Smith who is invited to become a senator by politicians corrupted by self-seeking businessmen, who they perceive is rife for manipulation. As such Stewart's character is a representation of Joe Public, and how politicians manipulate the average voter's views for political gain and moreover the corrupt businessmen (and women) who want to use their clout to pull strings, which promotes their power, and exacerbates their egos. In order to emphasise this the accomplished director Frank Capra needs to contrive sympathy for the highly emotive issue of 'children's welfare' in the form of a boys' camp, here proposed by Senitor Smith. When this is juxtaposed with hard, and emotionally depleted business profit then there is no contest; the children's welfare comes before corporate gain. Arguably, the methods by which corporate gain is achieved, - in this case via corruption - is diluted by Capra's emotive motive of using children's welfare as a tool by which to direct opinion.

    Nevertheless, it is corporate gain via corrupt methods which tinges the philosophical ideology of existentialism. To explain further, existentialism is concerned with the idea of 'the self'. In other words placing 'the self' at the centre of the universe. As such, 'the self' becomes empowered. In some circumstances this 'self' has the potential to become a self-seeking force. In this film, that self-seeking force is the businessman who endeavours to gain via unethical means, and corruption becomes associated with existentialism by default. Hence, existentialism becomes a negative force when juxtaposed with the utilitarian idea, which champions that of the greatest good, which is as Senitor. Smith views, written into American values, which he naively permits to lead him without questioning the concept. This value of the 'greatest good' is the driving force of his cause for a boys' camp.

    But, what will bring more benefit to society actually depends on how one interprets the ideas that are utilitarianism and existentialism, which via opinion, inadvertently contrive ideas of what is ethical and unethical which informs the voter of what is democratically acceptable. To explain further, the business venture is viewed in this film as unethical, and thereby will be unacceptable to the voter. Perhaps the narrative of the film should have balanced the viewers' opinions by explaining that the business venture proposed has the potential to provide employment, and spin-off enterprise for individuals. As such, these individuals would have the potential to prosper further and provide further employment, and so on. Meanwhile, the boys' camp would actually contrive a sense of good, and thus instill into them another person's perception of what is ethical. Is such paternalistic contrivance not just as corrupt in the sense of selfishness and self gain as any businessman (or woman) pulling a politicians strings? Further more, Senitor Smith's paternalism would stifle the individual's freedom of thought. Ironically, such stifling of individual thought along with paternalism is what leaves voters, such as that of Senitor Smith - remember here a representation of the average Joe Public - vulnerable like children, open to manipulation by corrupted politicians.

    Meanwhile Capra utilises emotions, which he purposefully exacerbates as a means of overcoming the otherwise monotonous bureaucracy at the heart of politics. Without such affectation, Capra would have lost his viewers to sheer boredom. This is especially during the filibuster which Jimmy Stewart performs via the implementation of the sentimentality of an underdog, fighting via the democratic process, corruption within politics on behalf of his fellow citizens. This affectation is juxtaposed by Capra in order to further achieve the portrayal of that of a man pleading for mercy after being assumed to be guilty. For his convincing performance in this as the doggedly determined crusader of justice, then Stewart deserves high praise.

    Kudos also goes to the great Jean Auther, whose implementation of her thespian skills serves to draw attention to her competent acting ability in the part of Clarrisser Saunders, who coerces Senitor Smith's emotions. The accomplished actor Claud Rains was also effective in his role as the politician corrupted by the unacceptable face of business, which is as already suggested, personified as that of 'selfishness'. Sailing so close to the (political) wind here Capra gives one potential reason for implementation and enforcement of the Hays' Code as a justifiable force of stability within the United States film industry.

    Retrospectively viewed with cynicism, because it is perceived as constraining democracy within the art of film making, the paternalistic Hays' Code was originally written with ethical intention at the time of its implementation, which was during a period of political instability throughout the world. This instability was further exacerbated by the centralisation of the otherwise fringe politics of the far left and far right highlighted through the emergence of fascism and communism, culminating in illiberal dictators in, among other nations, Italy, Germany and the USSR. Hence, the film's reference to dictators, who ironically are used to promote the satirical point that proponents of illiberal politics are fascinated with Western-style democracy, here undermined by Capra's portrayal of it as an essentially corrupt force.

    The time of the film's production means that there is allot of political incorrectness. An example includes the idea that boys as opposed to girls are the backbone of a nation. But where would have Mr. Smith been without Clarissa Sauners? Business is also highlighted as white, overtly heterosexual, male, middle age, and middle class. But, the question is, have things changed for the better in a world of political correctness? Well, if not, then political correctness is a mere token gesture to the excluded and disaffected voter.

    In sum, this is an intelligently directed, brilliantly acted, thought provoking film,and arguably a must see!
  • Simon Wilson16 May 2007
    Overblown, sentimentalist tripe
    Warning: Spoilers
    Maybe its because I'm a Brit, Maybe its because I'm a cynic, Oh hell,maybe its because I'm an out and out miserable bugger who doesn't like the political process being idealised. I found this film to be very very insulting. I watched it as part of my politics course at university and I found myself thinking why was this brought out? Then I realised, I hate patriotism. I hate this sentimental love of a nation. I hate the fact that this film appeals to the soppy American ideal, of the boy done good, gets framed and then decides to have his big moment. In fact I'll admit, I didn't watch it all. I walked out of the lecture, simply because I felt insulted. Granted you Americans will more than likely love this "masterpiece", but I wonder, had that been Mr Smith Goes To London would you have reacted the same, I know I would have...
  • ccthemovieman-11 November 2006
    Political Story With Some Good Messages
    When I started seriously collecting films in the mid '90s and discovered classic movies, this was one of the first famous classic films I watched. I found it a good movie, a very powerful one, but yet one I have not watched again, for some reason. I guess it wasn't that attractive to me to see multiple times.

    Yet, I can't criticize it. Jimmy Stewart is interesting as always, in the lead as "Jefferson Smith." Jean Arthur is the most fun of all the actors to watch in here and actually her "Clarissa Saunders" might be the lead character, not Stewart's. Claude Rains is so good that you want to punch his character, "Sen. Joseph Paine" right in the nose!

    I will say it's very dated, but some of that corny stuff adds to the enjoyment of the story. Some of it is refreshing, too, like the unashamed overt promotion of solid values, for instance - something Liberal viewers watching this must hate. You don't see that much patriotism or values-first themes in movies anymore.

    A good movie, but at 130 minutes a bit long and one that I would advise to rent first instead of purchasing blind because of its high reputation.
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