Mr. Smith Goes To Washington: Review
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is perhaps the most Capra-esque of all of Frank Capra’s films. Known for extolling the virtues of good old American qualities and home spun values, Capra demonstrates in Mr. Smith exactly why civic pride and entertainment are not mutually exclusive.
Mr. Smith is the endearing story of a young man who steps up to the task of representing his state in Washington D.C., only to have his beliefs shattered by the very man he idolizes. However, when the woman who loves him helps him to recapture his faith in himself and country, he renews his commitment to the teachings of his upbringing, unwilling to let the petty dealings of powerful men destroy the idealized America in which he so fervently believes.
Undoubtedly, Mr. Smith is a very patriotic film full of grand ideas of Americanism presented in none too subtle ways (the scene at the Lincoln Memorial is probably the heaviest hammer). What saves the film from sliding into a dearth of sentimental squalor lies in the talents of two remarkably talented men: actor James Stewart and director Frank Capra, a Hollywood combination that resulted in one of the most memorable, heart warming, and inspiring films of all time.
By 1939, Capra was already known as a golden boy, having directed It Happened One Night in 1934. Night was the first film ever to win all five of the top competitive Oscars. In ‘36 Capra had directed Mr. Deeds Goes to Town for which he received his second Best Director Oscar. And with You Can’t Take It With You in ‘38 Capra garnered a third Best Director Oscar and another Oscar for Best Picture. Although the critics dubbed his storylines as simple and sappy, it was obvious that Capra had an undeniable connection to the public who couldn’t get enough of his “Capra-corn”.
Stewart on the other hand was still a newcomer in ’39 with just a few definable successes to his credit. Up until that year Stewart was usually cast as the love interest to better-known female stars such as Ginger Rogers in Vivacious Lady and Margaret Sullavan in The Shopworn Angel. It was Mr. Smith that would bring the eventual icon true notoriety, sealing his own personae as the “unusually usual” man who personified the traits of the American male.
With Capra’s unique touch and Stewart’s wholesome appeal it’s no wonder Mr. Smith was destined to strike a cord with audiences still reeling from the depression. Americans were in need of inspiration and even direction in the insecure years leading up to WWII. Had it not been for Stewart’s enlistment and Capra’s own commitment to the war effort through the production of the Why We Fight short film series there might have been a host of memorable films from the winning combination. In fact, the first post-war film for both men was It’s a Wonderful Life in 1946. Obviously these two men were destined to be great collaborators, two of the greatest the silver screen has ever known.