Frank Capra's compelling attack on corruption and the abuse of political power was based on a novel, 'The Gentleman from Montana', and was made at a time (1939) when democracy and freedom of expression were under attack in Europe. Capra was clearly impressed by the symbolism of Washington - numerous scenes in the film portray the statues, memorials, the Capitol, images of revolution, independence and the myths / legends of 1776, the signing of the constitution, even a child quoting Lincoln's 'Gettysburg Address' and its allusion to emancipation.
But Capra was also aware that Washington is a compromise city with a counterfeit history - the US capital was moved from Philadelphia, and Washington (little more than a swamp) was chosen as the site for the new capital as a compromise to appease northern and southern political blocs. Capra, throughout the film, plays with this contrast between image and substance, between the solidity of the institutions and the fragility of the liberties they are supposed to uphold.
Capra has ideals and values - decency, honesty, humanity, politeness, compassion, truth, respect. He doesn't analyse these as cold philosophical or political themes - he dramatises them for the ordinary people who flocked to see his films. The portrayal can be sentimental, simple, simplistic even, aimed at emotional rather than cerebral appeal, but his ideals and values are no less genuine and no less valid for that. There are nuggets of sentimentality in "Mr.Smith goes to Washington", but there is a whole motherload of honesty and passion in the film too.
There is an outstanding cast - Stewart oozes honesty and sincerity, Claude Rains brings real presence to his role, Thomas Mitchell is charm and humour personified, Harry Carey captures attention in what is only a minor, if pivotal, role, and Edward Arnold is a glorious bad guy, absolutely convinced and convincing in his self-righteousness. Capra cared about his actors and this is as obvious here as in any other of his films. And, having said that, the stand out performance is by Jean Arthur as the hard-bitten Washington functionary who comes to believe again - she is wonderful, bringing to the screen a dynamic female presence in an era when women were too often only there for glamour and love interest. Capra contrasts her sophisticated political understanding and constitutional knowledge with the all male, all white assembly packed with men who seem reluctant (if not unable) to form their own opinions.
Capra blends comedy and drama to emphasise how corrupt the political machine had become and to expose the role of the media in papering over that corruption. His film attracted much popular acclaim - but was denounced by the Washington establishment (and by Jo Kennedy) as unpatriotic. Not, of course, that he changed much. The political machines have an even tighter hold on Washington, the multinationals a global straitjacket on the media.
A superbly filmed production, beautifully transferred (in black and white) to DVD. You get some interesting extras - a 10 minute interview with Capra's son (himself a film director and therefore able to combine professional knowledge of film-making with intimate knowledge of his father and memories of the times), and a highly informative commentary by him on the film. Excellent value, and one of Hollywood's all time great movies.
When a Senator dies the people of a small state in America decide to send the naive Mr Smith to congress in the hope that he will be an easy puppet for big business in the area. Jimmy Stewart's Oscar nominated portrayal as Mr Smith is both eloquent and passionate as he tries to fight the corruption in American politics. In the famous 'fillibuster' scene and the ultimate finale director Frank Capra shows the audience what it is to be a true hero against impossible odds as Mr Smith fights on with the cause he so dearly cherishes.
With a fine central performance from Stewart, and an excellent supporting cast of some of Hollywoods most recognisable faces, this is a must for fans of such movies as Mr Deeds Goes To Town, It's A Wonderful Life and It Happened One Night.
A film for all Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart fans, this is a true American classic and ranks as one of the greatest movies of all time.
This product's forum
Active discussions in related forums
Search Customer Discussions