A Review by Jason L. King
Starring: James Stewart, Jean Arthur
Directed by: Frank Capra
Rated: Not Rated
Movie Released: 1939
I graduated from Iowa State University in May of 2008 after taking some time off from college. We were leading up to the Presidential election that most people believe to be one of the most monumental elections of all time, the election of President Obama. I found myself sitting in a handful of journalism classes and each day the current events of election news was brought up in class. What I found sad was how a group of future journalists, knew so little about what they were reporting on. Four out of five of the students in the class thought that Obama vs. Hillary Clinton would be who they would have to choose to vote for in November 2008. Those same 3 1/2 out of 5 couldn’t name a GOP candidate if their life depended on it. Don’t worry, I’m not crazy I gave a half point to the girl who said, “Isn’t that Mormon guy (Romeny) and that 9/11 Dude (Gulliani) running as Democrats as well as Obama?” However, I don’t blame Iowa State Journalism for any of this. In fact, I had some of the most politically neutral professors that taught journalism courses at Iowa State.
On the other hand, I had a professor whom I take no shame in noting his name, Leland Searles, who taught a class on World Religions, focusing on Magic and Witchcraft. Dr. Searles taught us daily that the Conservative Christian is a loon, Bush should be ran out of office with pitchforks and Barrack Obama is the only one true savior of the United States. By semesters end, I had learned 2 things: Number 1, I had just taken a course on voting for Obama and not about world religion, and Number 2: That unless you share the professor’s viewpoint, you were not given more than 30 seconds to speak in class.
The reason I bring these up is to not vent, and to not draw attention to Leland Searles’ name or to discredit his character, however much I disagree with his tactics. I bring this up because my college career taught me that people don’t know jack about politics. And unfortunately, the people who should be educating us in politics and the real world, are instead indoctrinating us with their own ideals. Outside of ISU, the average joe doesn’t want to deal with politics. We want those guys in Washington to do our bidding and let us live our lives. The average person has their own set of moral values and ideas on what made this country strong and will continue to do so. Some root their belief in leaders like Obama and Clinton and Pelosi, others look to Palin, Hannity, Limbaugh and even Glenn Beck as people who will shape this country. The problem is, no matter which side you are on, we the people- even though we surround them- have an uphill battle to fight the corruption on both sides of the aisle.
This sad state of affairs is something that is not new, it dates back for years. People have called politicians dirt bags before, and will do it again in the future. The reason I mention this is because the film I watched Mr. Smith Goes To Washington deals with the very issues I have been talking about. (It took 1/2 a page to mention the title of the film! I’m treading Toon’s Movie Review territory now!) The film deals with an idealistic, patriotic young man who is appointed to congress after the death of a senator. Jeff Smith (Jimmy Stewart) is surprised to find out that the reason he was appointed is because many members of congress assumed he would follow the ranks, vote as they voted and be none the wiser since he had not played politics as long as they had. What they were surprised to find out was that Mr. Smith was hell bent on being the last honest politician in the country.
What I really enjoyed about this film, aside from Stewart’s magnificent performance, is the feelings you get while watching this film. As a viewer you go through a range of emotions, from feelings of embarrassment for Mr. Smith and his awkward interactions with the Washington good ‘ol boys to feelings of anger and frustration towards the back door dealings and mudslinging actions of the political powers that be. But perhaps the greatest feeling it brings out is the sense of pride, a pride in your country and a pride in the fact that there are still people out there willing to fight the good fight for the people. Even when the deck is stacked against him, Jeff Smith is willing to fight for what he believes his people want and need to know.
As a whole, you can call this film a success if nothing else for the performance by Jimmy Stewart, who did a wonderful job under the direction of Frank Capra. Stewart’s performance as the naive, yet honest political figure is one that few people will forget after watching this film. The Academy of Motion Pictures must have felt the same way, giving both Stewart and Capra Oscar Nominations in 1939.
Where Mr. Smith Goes To Washington goes wrong is in two very small ways. I felt the story was a bit corny, especially the relationship between Smith and Saunders (Smith’s secretary played by Jean Arthur). I also felt the ending seemed forced and over blown. I spent a lot of time feeling like I had seen the film before, and realized that I had. The film was very much like Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936). Aside from sharing a similar plot line about a little guy going up against a giant, the film it was directed by none other than Frank Capra and starred Jean Arthur. And, while it pains me to say it, yes Mr. Deeds Goes to Town eventually led to Adam Sandler’s remake,Mr. Deeds (2002), for those of you wondering.
When it is all said and done, Mr. Smith goes to Washington was a great watch and I encourage others to check it out as well. The film is a bit dated, so expect nothing fancy but this film relies on a feel good story and a great performance by a great actor. Whether you think the future of politics needs a Sarah Palin and a Glenn Beck or a Obama and Chris Matthews (or Olberman take your pick) I know that deep down inside you want an honest politician or a person who will tell you the honest truth. You may be tired of politics as usual, or you may be too frustrated to care. The point is, that person is out there in the world. It may be one or none of the people listed above. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington reminded me that the real Mr. Smith is out there, and we the people need to surround Mr. Smith and ask him to stand up and serve.