240. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington


Movie: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Release Date: October 17, 1939

Director: Frank Capra

Starring: Jean Arthur, James Stewart.

Tag Lines: “Capra at his greatest!”

“Stirring – In the seeing! Precious – In the remembering!”

“Capra’s Greatest Hit — The Screen At Its Most Inspired!”

“Entertainment As Powerful As the Strength of the People! As Great As the Genius of Capra!”

“Romance, drama, laughter and heartbreak … created out of the very heart and soil of America … by a great director and cast!”

Relevance: My favorite channel on television by far is Turner Classic Movies. It has been for many years all the way back to when Robert Osborne was hosting their nightly broadcasts back in the mid 1990’s. (He was the best and I miss him.) My love for that channel grows even more around Academy Award season. TCM celebrates those awards with its “31 Days of Oscar,” showing a selection of Academy Award nominated and winning movies over the course of that month. I would always peruse the schedule so that I could catch movies I hadn’t seen but definitely needed to. That is how I first saw ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.’

I don’t remember the exact day that I first saw the film on TCM but it was sometime in February of 2004. I also don’t remember if Ben Mankiewicz or Robert Osborne was the one that introduced the film. Mr. Mankiewicz was newly added as a host to the channel and although my heart belonged to Mr. Osborne, he was equally as knowledgeable, charming and entertaining. He has “introduced” many films to me over the years, adding behind the scenes insight, fun facts and stories that, as a movie fan, I completely eat up. It’s very possible that he did exactly that with this James “Jimmy” Stewart classic.

I hold Mr. Stewart in the highest esteem and consider him to be one of the greatest actors to ever live. ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ is the first of three films of his to appear on my list of most influential movies of all time. Most of the films of his that I have seen have memorable, impeccable performances by the actor. But the character of Jefferson “Jeff” Smith came to me at the perfect time and had a lasting effect on me.

As reported many times on this blog, I was not a very political person until the late 1990’s. You can check out 251. The American President for more insight into that if you are so inclined. However, by time we hit 2004, a Presidential election year, I was full on activist. As a proud liberal democrat, I was hell bent on getting George W. Bush out of office. I knew it was going to be near impossible as his popularity as a “war time” president was increasing by the day. It is easy to lose enthusiasm, get discouraged and lose all hope in the political realm. Even though it was months until the election and we still didn’t have an official Democratic nominee, I was less than energetic about the process ahead of us as a nation. Enter Jeff Smith.

Talk about inspiring. I was so moved by the movie, especially the performance of Jimmy Stewart. The story was everything I needed to here at that point in my life. One individual can make a difference. That is a theme that director Frank Capra explored a lot in his films, most notably in another collaboration with Jimmy Stewart, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ That is a film that will be revisited here near the end of 2020. Sadly in 2004 I was not able to make that much of a difference as W. was re-elected. But I tried my damnedest. ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ is a film I watch every presidential election year as it ignites a flame inside of me that is needed to simply survive.

Today’s Thoughts: 2020 has been quite the year, hasn’t it? And we still have to endure a Presidential election. Oh what fun. It has been said frequently over the last few election cycles and has become rather cliche, but this really is the most important election we will have in years. Why? We need to get the country back from the egocentric, maniacal, pathological lying, orange Cheeto-in chief that is currently failing us all. I’ve had that flame inside me since 2016, but ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ was the perfect film to watch today to keep it burning.

I could go on and on about how I adore this movie, how I adore Jimmy Stewart and how the movie is even more relevant today than it was back in 1939. However, I will just let the words from the movie do the talking:

“Just get up off the ground, that’s all I ask. Get up there with that lady that’s up on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something. And you won’t just see scenery; you’ll see the whole parade of what Man’s carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so’s he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That’s what you’d see. There’s no place out there for graft, or greed, or lies, or compromise with human liberties. And, uh, if that’s what the grownups have done with this world that was given to them, then we’d better get those boys’ camps started fast and see what the kids can do. And it’s not too late, because this country is bigger than the Taylors, or you, or me, or anything else. Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here; you just have to see them again!”

Remember to vote! Biden 2020.

Awards: Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story, Lewis R. Foster (winner), Academy Award for Best Picture (nomination), Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, James Stewart (nomination), Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Harry Carey (nomination), Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Claude Rains (nomination), Academy Award for Best Director, Frank Capra (nomination), Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay, Sidney Buchman (nomination), Academy Award for Best Art Direction, Lionel Banks (nomination), Academy Award for Best Sound, Recording, John P. Livadary (nomination), Academy Award for Best Film Editing, Gene Havlick, Al Clark (nomination), Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring, Dimitri Tiomkin (nomination), National Board of Review Award for Top Ten Films (winner), National Film Registry (1989), New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor, James Stewart (winner), New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Film (nomination).

Ways to Watch: Vudu, Amazon Prime, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, DVD Availability.


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