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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

James Stewart as the Senator who won't back down.

James Stewart as the Senator who won’t back down.

I feel a shout out is in order to my 7th grade Social Studies teacher, Mr. Kevin Russell (who also helped run our middle school newspaper where I would write movie reviews as a young teenager). It was he who showed parts of Mr. Smith goes to Washington, assuring us afterwards that black and white movies could be ok. It was the perfect time for me to see it (it was also around the 2000 presidential elections).

The movie (directed by legendary Frank Capra) is wildly considered one of the best political movies of all time, and I can’t see any politician who does not look to it for some form of inspiration. It is what shot James Stewart to super stardom (he is only second billed, behind Jean Arthur). He places the newly appointed Senator Jefferson Smith, alongside his late father’s friend Senator Joseph Paine (the wonderful Claude Rains). Upon arriving to the nation’s capital, he soon learns that some politicians are not all they seem to be. It all leads up to the uncanny ending with a filibuster to end all filibusters.

One of the best things the movie does is that it does not take any sides. They never once mention who is liberal or conservative. We don’t even know what state Smith and Paine come from. It just shows a young senator who knows what people he has grown up with and lived with need.

Parents, being that this is a movie from 1939 (one of the best years in film history, which included films such as Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Wuthering Heights, The Wizard of Oz, and Gone with the Wind), there is nothing to fear from this movie. I saw it in Middle School, and it was perfect timing. If anyone is interested in politics, they can’t pass this up.

There is a scene (spoiler) where Paine talks about how he made compromises to keep his seat, and the fact that Smith does not makes him more of a hero as the years go by. Our politicians need to listen to Mr. Smith more often, regardless of what party they are in. This is electric entertaining celluloid.

Overall: Five Stars *****

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