January 27, 2023

Mr Smith Goes To Washington (1939) – Classic Film Review

They don’t make them like this anymore.

Frank Capra’s acclaimed comedy/drama starring James Stewart as Jefferson Smith, a simple scout leader, but thoroughbred idealist, who finds himself in the seat of a U.S. Senator, only to discover the utter corruption and immorality of American politics.

Jefferson is something of a local celebrity around town, after putting out a forest fire almost bare handed, and is also the hero for many of the kids. The political minds decide he will be the perfect patsy to see through their diabolical plan to push a new dam through congress, in order to line their pockets with ill-gotten monies. At first, Jefferson seems to be a small fish in a big pond, quickly learning the traps and pitfalls of being a politician in Washington.

He is made fun of and teased, especially by the press, and regularly makes a fool of himself whilst representing his state, but things go from bad to worse when the foul play turns him into a suspected criminal, with the evildoers laying the accusations at him in order to fulfil their dastardly plan.

In order to clear his name, and restore his faith in American ideals, on which Jefferson has based his whole life, he must work with a jaded personal assistant (Jean Arthur) who reluctantly shows him the ropes.

A spectacular, classic movie, the story is still compelling after all these years. The topic of political corruption, as well as our own passiveness about the way our lands are governed, has never lost significance. Jefferson’s outward idealism, whilst overtly comedic, becomes a driving force for the film, blatantly attacking the audience for their own apathy whilst performing the role of good versus evil.

The film, expertly restored for our viewing pleasure, also proves to be a true achievement of its time, using methods which became massively important to cinema in the coming decades. Techniques like blending images over each other in order to signify a change of scene and location were cinematic milestones.

Wonderful to watch, in particular James Stewart’s closing performance, Mr Smith Goes To Washington has an importance beyond its visual limitations (in particular considering the current elections across the pond), and will continue to be a relevant piece of cinematic history for decades to come.

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