James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold, Guy Kibbee, Thomas Mitchell, Eugene Pallette, Beulah Bondi, H.B. Warner, Harry Carey
Lewis R. Foster (story), Sidney Buchman
Entertainment As Powerful As the Strength of the People! As Great As the Genius of Capra!
Frank Capra's much-loved political parable staring James Stewart and Jean Arthur, is a classic of American cinema. When a Wisconsin senator dies, patriotic boy scout leader Jefferson Smith is appointed his successor. Smith's appointment comes at the suggestion of crooked political strategist Jim Taylor who needs a "yes man" in the office -- and the innocent starry-eyed Smith's considered too naive to suspect foul play. But Smith's savvy secretary Saunders knows the whys and wherefores, the ins and outs of the Beltway. She gives Jeff the info he needs to go head-to-head with corrupt senator Joseph Paine, champion forgotten causes and fight for good old American values.
Runtime: 129 min.
Release Date: 2/22/2000
• Audio Commentary with Frank Capra Jr.
• “Frank Capra Jr. Remembers… Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” Featurette
• Vintage Advertising Gallery
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Bonus Trailers
• Talent Files
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Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 16, 2007)
1939’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington amply demonstrates why Frank Capra's films are known for their somewhat corny wholesomeness but it also shows why his movies endure in the public's imagination many decades after their theatrical releases. He knew how to push the right buttons in a somewhat shameless but nonetheless effective way; I sometimes hate myself for reacting the way he intended, but it seems almost inevitable.
Mr. Smith actually stands out and continues to entertain mainly because of an excellent performance from Jimmy Stewart. Really, the whole cast is good, but his work definitely wins the race. I've seen a fair amount of his acting over the years but he surprised me here with the range and the emotion he packs into the title character. In a role with immense potential to be phony or cartoonish, Stewart completely grounds the part and makes his evolution absolutely believable. The film's worth a viewing if for no other reason than to witness his outstanding performance.
One trivia note about the cast: take note of young Dickie Jones who plays a Senate page creatively named "Richard Jones." Actually, concentrate mainly on his voice, for you may have heard it elsewhere; Jones played Pinocchio in the Disney film of the same name. It's good to see he finally got that "real boy" operation.
Director Capra paces the film nicely and the climactic third act really seems dramatic and effective without (for once) resorting to too much in the way of cheap sentiment. Yes, Smith relates his patriotism strongly, but it seemed less forced and jingoistic than usual and Capra appeared more restrained in his depiction of this.
Although the film works well as a whole, it does have some notable flaws. For one, some characters mysteriously disappear as it continues. A potential romantic interest is set up in Senator Paine's daughter Susan (Astrid Allwyn), but this gets discarded along the way. We also lose track of Smith's "minder," McGann (Eugene Pallette) as the film proceeds.
I must admit that as powerful as the last act was, it contains some really iffy chronology that bugged me. As Smith filibusters the Senate, the Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) political machine cranks into action to destroy Smith's reputation with his constituents. We see giant posters pasted onto billboards and newspaper articles churned out in droves. All this happens in record time. Okay, I guess some of it was possible, but the amount of activity depicted by both Smith supporters and opponents seems extreme for what amounts to a time period of only about 24 hours. The smear campaign waged against Smith appears to go on for days, not just for hours.
While it's not a problem of illogic, I must admit I found the film's ending to be extremely jarring. To clarify: the content of the conclusion is fine, but the execution is terribly weak. After a long, stirring climax, the movie just goes "pow" and ends with little in the way of denouement. I actually said "That's it?!" to myself when "The End" appeared. The conclusion seems much too brief and too neat, as well.
While this bizarrely truncated finale disappointed me, it shouldn't take away from the fact that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington remains a very compelling and entertaining movie. Though not without its flaws, the film offers a stirring look at one man's battle against corruption and it deserves its lofty status among classic pictures.
The DVD Grades: Picture D+/ Audio C-/ Bonus C+
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although not unwatchable, the film looked pretty bad.
Sharpness could be good but it tends toward softness for much of the film. It's not terribly blurry but it seemed imprecise for the most part. Print flaws abounded, from heavier than usual grain to various speckles, scratches and white streaks that appeared on occasion.
Black levels varied. At times they seemed adequate, but a number of scenes looked vaguely "washed out" or too bright. Rarer but also problematic were blacks that appeared too dark as well, which tended to affect shadow detail. The scene in which Saunders (Jean Arthur) found Smith at the Lincoln Memorial seemed too opaque for the most part. The movie wasn't a complete mess, but I found it disappointing.
Better but still problematic was the movie's monaural sound mix. I don't expect a whole lot from a 60-year-old soundtrack, and this one pretty closely matched what would seem to be average for the era. Still, it displayed enough flaws for me to knock it to a slightly below average "C-".
Dialogue seemed intelligible but thin and occasionally strident. The music appeared generally trebly and light, and effects also lacked heft. A pretty constant hiss came from the background of the track as well, but I didn't detect many pops or crackles, at least. Overall, it's a perfectly acceptable but slightly weak audio mix.
Mr. Smith features a few supplements. First up is a pretty good audio commentary from Frank Capra Jr. Frankly, I wasn't looking forward to this piece because Capra's track for It Happened One Night was pretty dull. Thankfully, this one's much more stimulating and informative. Capra tells us a lot of details about the production and discusses the film's societal impact and the general reaction to it. The commentary suffers from a fair number of blank gaps, especially during the last third of the movie, but this isn't nearly the problem it was for Night. Overall, Capra offers a pretty good little commentary.
We get more of the same during Frank Capra, Jr. Remembers... Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. This eleven-minute piece seems rather superfluous since it could have been easily integrated into the commentary. All we get are "talking head" shots of Capra as he discusses the film plus his narration over movie shots and some production stills. The content doesn't duplicate much of that heard during the commentary, but it still seems like a waste of video space; they easily could have spliced his statements into the commentary track and not bothered with this.
Mr. Smith tosses in some of the old DVD standbys. We get the usual useless CTS talent files; here we find very basic entries for director Capra and four of the actors (Jean Arthur, Stewart, Claude Rains and Arnold). The film's trailer appears, as do previews for fellow Capra productions Night and Lost Horizon. The Vintage Advertising section provides 12 different promotional graphics for the movie, and the DVD's booklet includes some decent production notes.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington deserves a guarded recommendation. The DVD is flawed, with poor picture and slightly below average sound, although it includes a few nice supplements. However, when one considers the movie's age, the problems seem more acceptable, and the high quality of the film itself compensates. If you're a fan of this kind of picture, I'm sure you'll be pleased with this DVD.
To rate this film visit the Premiere Frank Capra Collection review of MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON