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Not Rated | 129 min | Comedy, Drama
Frank Capra's classic comedy-drama about government and the American spirit. Jimmy Stewart is an idealistic senator who tries to stem the tide of graft he finds around him. Claude Rains is a corrupt colleague, Jean Arthur a jaded secretary who joins Stewart's crusade. Political heavyweights decide that Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), an obscure scoutmaster in a small town, would be the perfect dupe to fill a vacant U.S. Senate chair. Surely this naive bumpkin can be easily controlled by the senior senator (Claude Rains) from his state, a respectable and corrupted career politician. Director Frank Capra fills the movie with Smith's wide-eyed wonder at the glories of Washington, all of which ring false for his cynical secretary (Jean Arthur), who doesn't believe for a minute this rube could be for real. But he is. Capra was repeating the formula of a previous film, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, but this one is even sharper; Stewart and Arthur are brilliant, and the former cowboy star Harry Carey lends a warm presence to the role of the vice president. Bright, funny, and beautifully paced, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is Capra's ode to the power of innocence--an idea so potent that present-day audiences may find themselves wishing for a new Mr. Smith in Congress. The 1939 Congress was none too thrilled about the film's depiction of their august body, denouncing it as a caricature; but even today, Capra's jibes about vested interests and political machines look as accurate as ever.