Monday, May 21, 2007

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; drama / satire, USA, 1939; D: Frank Capra, S: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold, Thomas Mitchell

A Senator of an unnamed state dies, so his boss, Jim Taylor, a tycoon of suspicious moral, decides to find a quick replacement to fulfill his illegal plan to build a dam nobody needs in order to get even richer by funding it with the tax money. His people choose the new replacement - the naive, moral Jefferson Smith, the head of the Boy Rangers. But when arriving to Washington, Smith is shocked to find out Taylor controls numerous corrupted Senators, among them even his idol Paine, so he announces that publicly in the Senate floor. Taylor organizes a dirty campaign against Smith, even ironically accusing him of trying to become rich by building the dam. Smith launches a filibuster, but Paine in the end admits the truth an Smith is declared free of charges.

Bitter and subversive political satire, one of the best movies of all time, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" even today clearly demonstrates the underrated talent of the director Frank Capra, who once again gave an ode to humanity and morality, without ever turning explicitly preachy. The clever story about an evil tycoon, Taylor, who "buys" Senators in order to model and change the laws by his own will and secure himself financial profit is truly unbelievably visionary for its time and even relevant today, causing some critics to say that "Mr. Smith should visit Washington again". Some have attacked the film for being "unpatriotic" in showing the corrupt politicians, completely missing the point since it is simply a warning of what can happen if corruption, selfishness or even plutocracy prevail in politics. The whole story becomes a clash between idealism and corruption; nobleness and selfishness; democracy and autocracy, embodied in Smith who is the young, unspoiled version of the old Paine who lost all those beliefs a long time ago. As always, Capra has emotions and sympathy for his characters and offers a moral message: from the sequence in which the naive Smith is walking through Washington and admires its monuments and what they stand for, up until the bitter, electrifying finale where Taylor is controlling the newspapers and uses that control to spread lies and put the reputation of the good hero through the mud (even preventing the other newspapers that claim the opposite!) while at the same time elevating the evil Senators, the movie raises an interesting point and proves to be excellent all the way through, whereas James Stewart plays his role with bravura, especially in the unforgettable sequence where he holds a long speech in the Senate.


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