Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
The Pride, Passion and Honour of James Stewart
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
1939 was a very impressive year when it came to movies; there was "The Wizard of Oz", "Goodbye Mr. Chips", "Gone With The Wind" and probably one of my favourite movies from that era "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington". An extremely patriotic movie, there is something rather special about "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" which makes its message about pride, honour and truth transcends continents so that its message hits home. It also features James Stewart who gives something of himself in his performance, which makes you champion this underdog in a corrupt political system.
When a senator suddenly dies a few weeks short of an important Bill being put through congress there is an urgency to find a replacement, one who can be manipulated by his peers to back the Bill so that they can line their own pockets. Enter the naive leader of the Boy Rangers, Jefferson Smith (James Stewart - The Shootist) who is unexpectedly chosen to be senator by the week minded state governor. Over awed by all the political history of Washington, Smith soon discovers that those elected by the people to serve the people are a corrupt bunch, especially Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains - The White Tower) who was a friend of his father. When Smith decides to oppose the Bill he finds himself the focus of much attention as political boss Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) and Senator Paine throw everything they can at him to silence him before he spoils their plans.
Quite honestly you don't watch "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" because it is some amazingly clever drama or because it is thrilling with clever twists. For the most you don't watch it for the acting either, especially the over the top gestures of the various children who appear throughout the movie. You watch it because it has a very powerful moral message, an uplifting spirit that despite being all about American patriotism actually transcends countries and instils you with a sense of pride and a sense of doing the right thing. You watch it because of the impassioned and humorous speech delivered by James Stewart as Jefferson Smith as he addresses congress whilst fighting for his pride and the people. You watch it because it is a movie which makes you feel good, makes you want to stand up and be counted and do something rather than just going with the flow.
Having said that you don't watch "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" because of the drama, there is no denying that the world of politics, sleaze and corruption is surprisingly enjoyable to watch, especially in the current climate where here in the UK we have politicians more concerned with lining their own pockets than serving those who elected them, but it certainly isn't a complex drama. It's a very simplistic look at the corruption but just detailed enough to give you an idea at how power, greed and money can corrupt, even those who when they started out in politics did so in a noble manner.
"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is very much James Stewart's movie despite featuring many other famous names such as Jean Arthur, Claude Rains and Thomas Mitchell. There is something completely believable about James Stewart's portrayal of the young naive Senator, his fascination with the political history of Washington and the way he stands up for what he believes in. I've said it before but in every performance James Stewart gave it always seemed as if he was giving a bit of himself in the role, here as Jefferson Smith you get a real sense of Stewart's own patriotism and pride on show especially in his passionate speech to congress. It's no surprise he was nominated for the performance as it is so powerful that it makes you want to follow suit, to do something which is right and true. Plus of course there is always the Stewart humour, the subtle way he says something, the look on his face it always manages to make you laugh just at the right moment and makes what could have been a flat yet powerful movie a little lighter.
Whilst James Stewart is the undoubted star of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" the other stars are no slouches either especially Jean Arthur who is wonderfully feisty, a little time warn as his secretary whose own blinkered view point on politics is changed by the naive and passionate Jefferson. The pairing of James Stewart and Jean Arthur works well, allowing for the underlying romantic element to simmer away whilst the comic timing between the two comes to the fore. Alongside Jean Arthur there is also the impressive Claude Rains as Senator Paine delivering all the pomp and authority of such a classic actor whilst also give the character a heart, a believable factor.
Although he doesn't get many scenes the brilliant Eugene Pallette is a riot as Chick the political stooge. The gruff voice and delivery of witty remarks from Pallette are scene stealers and makes "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" just the right amount of funny without destroying the powerful message.
What this all boils down to is that "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is a movie which deserves its regular position in the top 100 movies. It may not be the most amazing drama when it comes to having twists and intrigue but it does deliver a very powerful message, one which is sentimental but true. It's a movie which features a brilliant performance from James Stewart as well as the other stars such as Jean Arthur and Claude Rains, even though some of the other cast do over act. But more importantly "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is a movie which will fill you with a sense of pride, honour and the urge to do the right thing.
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