Late to the Oscars! A review of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

[Editor's note: I've been reviewing several Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning movies that I haven't seen.

According to Wikipedia, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was nominated for 11 Academy Awards but only won one.[22]

Award Result Winner
Outstanding Production Nominated Columbia Pictures (Frank Capra)
Best Director Nominated Frank Capra
Best Actor Nominated James Stewart
Best Writing, Screenplay Nominated Sidney Buchman
Best Writing, Original Story Won Lewis R. Foster
Best Supporting Actor Nominated Harry Carey
Best Supporting Actor Nominated Claude Rains
Best Art Direction Nominated Lionel Banks
Best Film Editing Nominated Gene HavlickAl Clark
Best Music, Scoring Nominated Dimitri Tiomkin
Best Sound Recording Nominated John P. Livadary

Man, 1939 was a great year for movies.]

Every once in a while, my grandma will call to let me know about a movie running on TCM later that day or week that she thinks I’d enjoy. A few weeks ago, she called to recommend Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. 

My grandmother knows me well. I’ve been a Frank Capra fan since the first moment I saw It’s A Wonderful Life and It Happened One Night. And, although his personal politics and mine don’t necessarily align, Jimmy Stewart is one of my favorite actors of all time. His Hitchcock movies won me over (including Vertigo, Rear Window, Rope), he was the voice of the Sheriff in Fievel Goes West and… well, there’s his poem about his dog Beau. I can’t really discuss it. I don’t want my mascara to run.

Perfect to watch during an election year, this movie really made me want to sit down in a room of politicians and force them to watch it. Oh wait, never mind. I don’t want to spend that much time in a room filled with awful people.

Also of note, the entire movie is basically a prequel to It’s a Wonderful Life:

  • Auld Lang Syne appears, but at the beginning of this movie
  • Jeff’s mother is played by Ma Bailey
  • Uncle Billy has a part in the movie
  • Mr. Gower has a part in the movie
  • I thought spotted one of the guys who shows up at the end of IAWL with the warrant.

This movie is wonderful. You have the classic naive dreamer hero in Jefferson Smith, the evil multi-million dollar political machine in Jim Taylor and the good-guy-gone-bad-but-feeling-guilty-about-it character in Senator Paine. The romance between Jean Arthur and Jimmy Stewart’s characters was a nice touch and I thought their chemistry was very fun and genuine Also, I feel like so many recent political dramas about corruption end up being about affairs and murder (most recently, The Ides of March), so it was refreshing and interesting to watch something a little different (even though it was outdated– a boys campground now sounds to me like a dangerous place). And… the filibuster! Oh, the filibuster! I had always heard it referred to as one of the greatest scenes of all time, and I absolutely have to agree.

Favorite part: I don’t usually love female characters but I adore Saunders. In fact, I even decided that my next dog will be named Saunders. And that’s a pretty big deal for me.

The “I missed that in pop culture trivia” moment:

I’ve only seen this picture one bazillion times, but now I finally know where it’s from:

I love you, Jimmy

Regrettable tardiness scale (out of 10): 9/10. It’s a movie that I’ll definitely watch again, and I feel like everyone should be required to watch it in an election year. Thanks for the recommendation, Grandma!

3 responses to “Late to the Oscars! A review of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

  1. Excellent review. The filibuster is one of my favorite movie scenes of all time too and it breaks my heart every time I see him get all those letters and telegrams telling him to stop. I think the ending is a bit of deus ex machina, but I’m not sure there’s a better way to end the movie and still have a happy ending. You make it today and you’d have a political operative, played by Ryan Gosling or perhaps Mamie Gummer working on behalf of Jeff Smith to strongarm Paine into quietly retiring from the Senate and then that same operative would blackmail Jeff Smith into managing Smith’s campaign for President.

    Also, there was a murder in “Ides of March”?

    • No murder, but sex – baby – abortion – suicide. It was very blah. VERY blah (as I assume you know based on your comment).

      • I really wanted to like that movie as I have a huge mancrush on Clooney (Don’t judge. You have no idea what he and I have.), but it was just a dirge of a movie. Very much a plodding, forced march of a movie. It confused silence with wisdom, somehow.

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