Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Length: 2Hr 24

Rating: U

About: When the idealistic young Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) winds up appointed to the United States Senate, he gains the mentorship of Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains). However, Paine isn’t as noble as his reputation would indicate, and he becomes involved in a scheme to discredit Smith, who wants to build a boys’ campsite where a more lucrative project could go. Determined to stand up against Paine and his corrupt peers, Smith takes his case to the Senate floor.

The Good

As always James Stewart is fantastic. While his character of Jeff is able to show Stewart’s range, it’s interesting to see such innocence and vulnerability about him. It’s refreshing to see that he’s just a little innocent rather than ‘stupid’; too often that’s the easy approach and now feels old hat and cheap.

The romance was cute and Jean Arthur plays Clarissa as this wonderful, head strong woman who would do wonders in modern society let alone the time in which the film is set. Its this sort of character that makes me wonder if all those calling out Hollywood for representation have watched films like this.

What I love about politically based films and tv is how relevant and topical they are today. For too long, I’ve avoided them, thinking I wouldn’t understand references and that times have changed. Fundamentally, things that films and tv comment upon are the same; reporters producing articles out of contexts, corruption within government and the one who doesn’t seek out power will always make the best leader. That is, if they’re not eaten alive first.

The story is wonderful, powerful and thought provoking; I particularly love the scene in which the reporters catch Jeff outside his home and the headings and pictures that come from that impromptu interview are powerful ‘fake news’.

The Bad and the Ugly

It’s a personal thing, but I wasn’t fond of the ending. I’m happy that the truth comes out, but we end with our protagonist unconscious and that leaves me a little unfulfilled. Objectively, we have enough to know he’ll be fine and the attempted suicide of Paine is certainly climactic and everything else is implied, but I just would have liked to have seen Jeff awake.

Final Thoughts

It was a solid, heartwarming, film that I will happily again. Jean Arthur is someone I’d to see more from and will be adding some of her films to my viewing list over the next few months.


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