Mr. Smith Goes to Washington remains a classic over 80 years following its theatrical release and is a part of the Columbia Classics: 4K Ultra HD Collection.
While the film has beautifully aged, the same couldn’t be said for its theatrical release in 1939. It was slammed by many politicians. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Alben W. Barkley wasn’t among the fans. Nor was Joseph P. Kennedy, then the American Ambassador to Great Britain. He was pissed and afraid of how the USA would look to the outside world.
Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) is an idealistic senator from Montana. When Sam Foley dies in office, Governor Hubert “Happy” Hopper (Guy Kibbee) is pressured to pick a replacement. His children want Smith being that he is the head of the Boy Rangers. The rest is history.
Upon Smith’s arrival in Washington, Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) takes him under his wings. Senator Paine was also a friend of Smith’s father. Smith is also attracted to Paine’s daughter, Susan (Astrid Allwyn). Because of his personality and such, the Washington press paints him as a laughing stock. This doesn’t sit well and after Paine’s suggestion, Smith writes a bill with his secretary, Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur). Clarissa is a Washington veteran so she has the necessary experience in this department.
Sidney Buchman–pre-blacklist–bases his screenplay on an unpublished story about Senator Burton Wheeler (D-MT). Once Frank Capra signed on to direct the film, his plan had been to bring Gary Cooper on board. Cooper, however, was not available to do the film. As such, Capra was able to get James Stewart on loan from MGM. In another universe, the film would have been a sequel to Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. What a sight that would have been!
One of the most impressive things I love about the film is the attention to detail with recreating the United States Senate on camera. It’s more than just the Senate but offices, monuments, etc. When you’re looking at the chamber, you’re looking at a complete reproduction on the Columbia lot. It’s honestly amazing how authentic it is.
One of the things that the film does so well is capture how our politicians can be bought through corruption. It’s not right and it’s one of the worst things about the American political system. Perhaps this explains why so many Washington politicians didn’t like the film in 1939. This is why the Oscar-winning (Best Writing – Original Story) film stands the test of time. Jefferson Smith is the type of politician that they don’t make anymore. Because of this, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington remains one of the best political films ever made.
DIRECTOR: Frank Capra
SCREENWRITER: Sidney Buchman
CAST: Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold, Guy Kibbee, Thomas Mitchell, Beulah Bondi