Time to go a bit more old-school today with a review of the classic political film Mr Smith Goes To Washington. Now this film is actually ahead of it’s time in regards to the presentation of the political world in DC and the big message of the film is still as relevant today as it was in the 1930’s.
The plot of the film concerns Jefferson Smith, a newly named Senator for an unnamed state who is chosen to be a stooge for a corrupt businessman’s money-making project. All of this stuff concerning pork-barreling schemes, the attempts by businessmen to take control of the political system for their own ends and the corrupt nature of Senators is still relevant today and the way in which Smith is introduced to the world of DC politics feels very natural for someone as naive as him and the ending scenes further show just how out of his depth Smith is due to him initiating a filibuster for 24 hours and very nearly losing. I also like that the film shows the influence that the media has in regards to politics, from the humiliation of Smith at the start of the film to the corruption of the media to turn people against Smith and to prevent his filibuster from being seen by anyone.
The writing in the film is also excellent. The filibuster at the end is an incredible piece of writing. In one scene we fully get to see all of Smith’s character development throughout the film and everything that he’s learnt about the political system has come full circle. Plus, the filibuster itself is brilliantly written, makes great use of political documents throughout and the ending of the speech, when Smith commits to fighting on at the point of exhaustion because it’s the right thing to do is incredibly executed and, while I like the idea that the corrupt forces would win, I think it’s better that Smith does get through, showing how corruption cannot match pure commitment to beliefs in the political system., which is a lesson every political should learn.
The performances are excellent as well. Jimmy Stewart does a brilliant job as Smith, you see the naive nature of the character shine through over the course of the film but he also makes it clear that he is always learning from his mistakes and is fully committed to his political beliefs, in particular fighting for the lost causes, with this coming through most during the filibuster scene. Jean Arthur also does a great job as Saunders, you can tell that she is good at her job but the poor showing by the Senator’s she’s worked for in the past have left her jaded to all the good that the political system can do until the perseverance of Smith in doing good gets through to her, showing her that there is still some good to be done in politics. Claude Rains is excellent as Paine, you can tell how reluctant he is to commit to all the corruption but you also see how he knows that he has no other choice but to remain part of the corruption in order to keep his job. Edward Arnold is really good as Jim Taylor, showing just how slimy and corrupt major media figures can be, a William Randolph Hearst type figure and you can see just how much power he has and how willing he is to use this power for his own ends, no matter what the cost. There are also great performances from Guy Kibbee, Thomas Mitchell and Astrid Allwyn who fully show the different aspects to the political world presented by the film.
Overall, Mr Smith Goes To Washington is an excellent film. Sure the film is incredibly sentimental and cheesy but because of the brilliant writing, acting and ahead of its time political angle, this is definitely a political film from the past that still holds up today.
My Rating: 5/5