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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, A Classic Hollywood Movie

Updated on October 16, 2014

'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' is one of the most lavishly praised and enjoyable movie classics of all time. It was released in 1939, an amazing year which produced classic movies such as 'Gone With the Wind', 'Stagecoach', 'The Wizard of Oz', 'Wuthering Heights', 'Ninotchka' and other masterpieces, and it was still nominated for eleven Oscars and won the Oscar for Best Writing of an Original Screenplay.

It is an honest film that has an idealistic message. It pulls no punches in its denunciation of corruption in big business and politics. Because of its hard--hitting message, and because it was released only two months after the outbreak of WWII, it was banned on release in much of Europe. The strength of the movie lies in top class actors performing a first class script to the best of their abilities and it has a message to hit home. It is one of producer/director Frank Capra's masterpieces, and considered by many to be his greatest achievement in film.

Basic Story line

Jimmy Stewart plays Jefferson Smith, an idealistic scoutmaster in a small town, who is picked as a junior senator for his home state by the cynical Washington political machine, to replace a recently deceased senator. The corrupt senators expect that the young man will be easily manipulated to do their bidding. Prime among the conspirators is the state's senior senator, Joseph Paine (played by Claude Rains).


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Smith sets off for Washington full of ideals and dreams and goes on a sightseeing tour of the capital showing the sense of wonder and reverence of a true country boy. His idealism receives short shrift, however, when his dreams of working with his childhood hero, Paine, dissolve with the realisation that he is expected to be no more than a rubber stamp for a plan to finance a new dam that will profit only Paine and his cynical cronies.

His sense of disillusion is further deepened when the press corps take his quotes out of context and portray him as an out-of-town no hoper.

Smith discovers many of the shortcomings of the political process as he then attempts to establish a national boys' campwhich leads to a conflict with the state political boss, Jim Taylor. Taylor first tries to corrupt Smith and then later attempts to destroy him by falsely accusing him of theft. Dejected and almost beaten, Smith is ready to depart Washington, but is persuaded to stay and fight on by his cynical secretary Clarissa Sanders (Jean Arthur, with Stewart, above), who has been impressed by Smith's naïve idealism and ambition.

Smith returns to the Senate chamber and engages in an unforgettable single-handed filibuster to delay the Senate vote until his legion of hometown supporters can prove his innocence.

The filibuster is compelling cinema and shows why this movie made James Stewart's a big star. The film ends on an upbeat note soon afterwards.

Main Cast

James Stewart

Born in 1908 James Stewart made his first movie in 1935 and by 1939 he was already an experienced performer. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is the movie that really made his name although he actually made 4 other movies in the same year. He is best known for playing down-to-earth, wholesome, boy next door parts like Smith and It's a Wonderful Life but he was a fine actor in a wide variety of movie roles. He was nominated 5 times for best Actor Award and won in 1941 for The Philadelphia Story. He died in 1997.

Jean Arthur

One of the Hollywood's foremost comediennes, Jean Arthur began her career in silent films but became famous in the 1930s and 40's for her squeaky voice and heroine roles opposite such stars as Gary Cooper in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), and Jimmy Stewart in You Can't Take It With You (1938).

She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1944 for her performance in The More the Merrier (1943). Her last screen appearance was in 'Shane' in 1953.

Thomas Mitchell is something of a movie Everyman. He seems to have had an important role in so many of the movies of the golden era, including Gone With the wind, Stagecoach, Mr Smith Goes To Washington and High Noon.

After his brilliant movie career he successfully made the move to television in 1951 and made many programmes in the O. Henry Playhouse series.

He was the first actor to win the 'triple' - an Oscar (Best Supporting Actor in Stagecoach in 1939), an Emmy, and a Tony Award.

Are You a "Mr Smith" Fan? Let's hear your thoughts.

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