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Archive for the ‘Edward Arnold’ Category

mrsmithThose of you who know me know that even though I run the accounting department where I work, I actually have a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. Since my movie cohort Benn Farrell and I decided to make October reviews theme Presidential movies in honor of this horrendous Presidential election, I decided my Classic Movie Review would be a movie that many of my High School teachers and college Professors of Political Science told me to see, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.  I can see why a Political Science teacher would want someone to see this movie because even though it is extremely dated it does have some relative points to make even in today’s political landscape.

Jefferson Smith, played by Jimmy Stewart (It’s a Wonderful Life,) is the leader of a rural outdoor boys organization in a unnamed American state when he is appointed by the Governor to be one of the two US Senator of his state when the sitting Senator dies.  What Smith doesn’t know is that a local businessman named Jim Taylor, played by Edward Arnold (Meet John Doe,) has bribed the Governor and the other sitting Senator, Joseph Paine, played by Claude Rains (Casablanca,) to propose a bill in the US Senate that includes money to build a dam that is profitable to Taylor and Smith was sent to Washington to be an unknowing supporter of the bill by just doing what Paine tells him.  However, Paine, Taylor and the Governor weren’t planning for is Smith’s assistant Saunders, played by Jean Arthur (Shane,) who was the original Senators assistant, to fall for his innocence and his wholesome beliefs of what the country stands for, and tells Smith exactly what is going on.  When Smith tries to tell his fellow Senators what is going on, Paine turns on him and tries to get Smith kicked out of the Senate.  Smith must try to not only save his job but also convince the Senate that he is telling the truth and Paine is lying about the dam.

So my biggest problem with the movie is the story and the unnecessary…oh how do I say it…filmmaking choices by legendary director Frank Capra.  I’ll start by explaining the last half of the previous sentence.  When I mean filmmaking choices I mean the style that was in use during this time in that there is a scene in the film that is puts together a montage of location scenes to set the mood of the moment or the character of the individual or the theme of the movie.  In this movie we have a scene just like this.  The story sets up this scene earlier by showing our dear Mr. Smith at a rally where he shows how patriotic he is, how he believes in the purity of the Constitution, and his naivety at how this process works.   Later we see him arrive at a train station in Washington DC and his handler quickly loses him.  There is great consternation about where he has gone and what has happened to him.  Well never fear movie watchers as Frank Capra takes us on the journey with Mr. Smith.  What the viewer gets is about 3 minutes and 18 seconds I think (I wrote it down but lost the paper,) of a montage of Washington DC landmarks with a heavy emphasis on the Lincoln Memorial.  Wow.  Just Wow.  I know that this movie was made in 1939 and most of the country could not just get in the car and take the family on a trip to DC.  It was the depression after all.  But however long this montage is it is too much. I feel that this montage also tries to show how patriotic the film is supposed to be but I already get that feeling from the title of the movie and the first 15 minutes.  This is a minor issue but it leads into the biggest drawback of the movie which is the unfulfilling ending.  The ending, spoiler alert…as if you were going to watch this, has Mr. Smith going on a marathon filibuster in the Senate to keep the vote from happening on whether or not to kick him out of the Senate.   He is trying to convince the Senate that the bill that is to be voted on is a fraudulent one that needs to be stopped.  As Smith becomes fatigued he is able to finally get Senator Paine to admit that everything Smith has been saying is right.  The rest of the Senate has gotten out of their seats to charge at Paine who is acting crazy while Smith has passed out from exhaustion at this point.  Do we get to see what happens? Do we get to see Taylor crushed and arrested?  Do we see the aftermath of the confession and Paine sent away and Smith Vindicated?  Do we see get to see Saunders and Smith give each other that big Hollywood hug and kiss that happens at the end of these movies?  Nope.  Paine goes looney on the Senate floor, he is rushed, Smith is carried out with a smiling Saunders looking from above, fade to black, then end.  Now here is where my two issues combine.  Maybe, just maybe, if we had only a 30 second patriotic montage at the beginning, we can take those 2+ minutes and put them at the end of the film, to see what happens.  But no, let’s give us a 3 minute montage of DC and leave us wondering what happens at the end.  Don’t like it.

The acting is superb in the film with Stewart leading the way.  He has the deer in head lights look of innocence anyway so its not hard for him to be a naïve country boy in the big city.  But his big filibuster speech is pretty amazing.  He also works well with leading lady Jean Arthur who herself has a pretty funny scene where she is drunk off her ass in a bar.  However I will say that I just don’t buy that these two, Smith and Saunders, would fall in love with each other that fast.  But it’s Hollywood and we need a love story in our movies.

As much as I bagged on the story earlier above, it is also very good for a few reasons.  The writer, and maybe director, did a great job of keeping this political movie non-political.  What I mean by that is that we don’t know from what state Smith comes from.  We don’t know the political affiliations of the good or bad guys in the film.  If a remake of this movie is made today I would bet you my next 10 paychecks that the corrupted members were Republicans and the good and honest politicians were Democrats.  Hollywood has changed a lot in 80 years.  The reason that this movie is a timeless classic is the issues in this movie are not dated and could work today.  Oh sure the main story of the building of dam by a corrupt businessman would have to change but the story itself is what remains the same.  Change the dam with Benghazi or email servers or bankrupt hotels and you have yourself a movie take from today’s absolutely horrible headlines.  The only problem for this movie I see is that it would be very difficult to find a non-partisan naïve individual who just believes in the founding fathers and the Constitution to play the part of Smith in this day and age.  Most of one party wants to get rid of the damn thing (Progressives…I’m speaking to you.  Yes you.)  I also will say that despite the ending that I complain about, the story keeps me involved and I want to see how it ends.

I can see why my political science professors and teachers wanted me to see this film.  It is a good film on how the politics of this country, both good and bad, work.  If you decide to see this film realize that it is dated and most of it is shot in a style that is like putting a camera inside a playhouse and watching a theater production of Mr. Smith goes to Washington but that is just the era in which this movie is made.  I can say that this is the first Jimmy Stewart movie I have watched where he was the star and I can see why he is considered an amazing actor for his generation.  I need to see more of his films.

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