Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) 4.68/5 (4)


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Rating: The Good – 88.8
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Duration: 129 mins
Director: Frank Capra
Stars: Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains

Few filmmakers could reconcile the ostensibly disparate tones of screwball comedy and piercingly perceptive drama like Frank Capra could and this cinematic classic is possibly his best achievement in that regard. In his first Oscar nominated performance, Jimmy Stewart stars as a wide eyed and patriotic scout leader, Jefferson Smith, who finds himself nominated to the senate. Unbeknownst to him, however, he’s expected to be play the puppet and take orders from his state’s wealthiest and most powerful man. When he learns of this and that his childhood hero, Sen. Joseph Paine (Claude Rains), has been under the same obligation, he attempts to fight the mighty corruption right from the floor of the senate. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is one of those rare gems so clear in conception, construction, and delivery that it cuts straight to the core of truth so that it’s as relevant today as it was to the time it was made. But there’s also a relentless fun to Sidney Buchman’s dialogue even when the heat is on as if Capra believed you can’t get too bogged down in the negativity of the system or you’ll drown and never be in a position to change it. Stewart is the best avatar he could’ve asked for in this regard using his broadly appealing magic to drive the point home with a naive charm. Jean Arthur’s “Saunders” is the cynical alternative to this stance, the next-best-attitude to Smith’s optimistic crusader if you will, and, if anything, she upstages Stewart in a sterling performance of delectable feistiness. Raines’ crooked senator adds complexity to the bad side of the fence but it’s fair to say, the remaining villains are as one dimensionally bad as Smith would’ve been good – if it weren’t for the depth Stewart brings by default. Capra’s typical energy behind the camera infuses it all with a giddy verve and with audacious moments of satirical wit and laugh out loud comedy balancing the perceptive political commentary, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is as well rounded yet deceptively sophisticated a film as there has ever been. Timeless.

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