Continuing with the films of 1939, I now come to another classic (as if any of the entire Academy 10 isn’t a classic), Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. This film is a sterling example of Hollywood’s ability to believe in true morality and goodness. It doesn’t hurt that the director is Frank Capra, who believed in old-fashioned goodness, and tried to present it in all of his films.
Simply told, Mr. Smith is the story of a small-town naif known for his good deeds who is appointed as interim senator by a corrupt political machine that needs to have an easy-to-control placeholder who doesn’t know how things are done in DC, in order to complete a massive scheme of political graft. A complication is that the congressional aide is a cynical politico who knows how things are done. Let’s see if I’ve checked off the boxes:
Corrupt big-city sharpies
Cynical female operative
Cynical female operative falls for naif
Sharpies steamroll the rube
I’m not sure if I’m describing Mr. Deeds Goes To Town or Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Throw in a daft angel or an absent-minded mother who uses kittens as paperweights, and I could be describing It’s A Wonderful Life or You Can’t Take It With You, all fine examples of the genre known as Capra-Corn.
This iteration of Capra’s vision of American goodness starred America’s “Everyman”, the inimitable Jimmy Stewart as the naive Jefferson Smith, head of a national boys’ organization. The female lead is one of my favorite actresses, the reclusive Jean Arthur, who starred in another Capra-Corn movie I’ve written about, Mr. Deeds Goes To Town. Together they have to overcome a nefarious political cabal, led by suave and urban Claude Rain and perennial tough guy Edward Arnold.
As always in a Capra movie, good ultimately triumphs over evil, but not before a climactic struggle in which Goliath nearly destroys David. In this scene, Stewart presents what Capra believed in: