DVD Movie Guide @ dvdmg.com
Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main


Frank Capra
James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold, Guy Kibbee, Thomas Mitchell, Eugene Pallette, Beulah Bondi, H.B. Warner, Harry Carey
Writing Credits:
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.

Box Office:
$1.5 million.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
French Dolby Digital Monaural
German Dolby Digital Monaural
Italian Dolby Digital Monaural
Portuguese Dolby Digital Monaural
Castillian Spanish Dolby Digital Monaural
Latin Spanish Dolby Digital Monaural
Chinese Traditional
Brazilian Portuguese
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 129 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 12/2/2014

• Audio Commentary with Frank Capra Jr.
• “Frank Capra Jr. Remembers… Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” Featurette
• “Conversations with Frank Capra Jr.: The Golden Years” Featurette
• “Frank Capra: Collaboration” Featurette
• “Conversations with Frank Capra Jr.: A Family History” Featurette
• “The Frank Capra I Knew” Featurette
• “Frank Capra’s American Dream” Documentary
• Trailers


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Mr. Smith Goes To Washington [Blu-Ray] (1939)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 9, 2014)

1939’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington demonstrates why Frank Capra's films are known for their somewhat corny wholesomeness. However, it also shows why his movies endure in the public's imagination many decades after their theatrical releases. Capra 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.

When the senator of an unnamed western state dies, Governor Hubert "Happy" Hopper (Guy Kibbee) needs to pick a replacement. Sleazy political boss Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) forces a choice on Hopper but the citizens revolt and offer their own pick.

Encouraged by his children, Hopper comes up with an unlikely candidate: youthful Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), the popular, earnest leader of a boys group. Taylor and senior senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) feel the naïve Smith will be easily cowed and will go along with their underhanded plans for a graft-filled dam.

Thus Smith finds himself in Washington, where he comes under the tutelage of Paine’s cynical assistant Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur). Along the way, Smith learns the hard truths about the federal government and runs into ideas that butt against his idealism.

Mr. Smith stands out and continues to entertain mainly because of an excellent performance from Jimmy Stewart. Really, the whole cast does well, but Stewart definitely wins the race. I've seen a fair amount of his acting over the years but he impresses 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 grounds the part and makes Smith’s evolution believable. The film merits 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." 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 resorting to too much in the way of cheap sentiment. Yes, Smith relates his patriotism strongly, but it feels less forced and jingoistic than expected and Capra appears reasonably restrained in his depiction of this sentiment.

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 gets set up in Senator Paine's daughter Susan (Astrid Allwyn), but this becomes 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 turns, it contains some really iffy chronology that bugs me. As Smith filibusters the Senate, the Jim Taylor 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 could be 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 find the film's ending to be extremely jarring. To clarify: the content of the conclusion seems fine, but the execution suffers.

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 disappoints me, it shouldn't take away from the movie’s many strengths. Though not without flaws, the film offers a stirring look at one man's battle against corruption and it deserves its lofty status among classic pictures.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus B+

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This new transfer looked pretty positive.

Sharpness seemed quite good. A little softness popped up at times, mostly due to some dodgy source elements, I believe; for instance, a shot of one of Jeff’s young supporters looked oddly blurry. Nonetheless, the majority of the flick demonstrated nice clarity and accuracy.

I saw no issues with jaggies or moiré effects, and edge haloes remained absent. With natural grain, I didn’t suspect overuse of digital noise reduction – and that was especially true given the heavy grain in process shots like Jeff and crew at the DC train station.

Print flaws were minor. Transition shots could show some light defects, but they were negligible. A bit of flickering appeared at times as well; check out some of the moments at the Lincoln Memorial. Otherwise I saw a handful of small specks but nothing significant.

Blacks looked strong. The movie came with dark tones and solid contrast throughout the experience. Shadows seemed smooth and concise, without excessive thickness. While not quite as strong as the best transfers of 1930s movies, Smith nonetheless looked very good.

I don't expect a whole lot from a 75-year-old soundtrack, but the DTS-HD monaural audio worked pretty well. Dialogue seemed intelligible and showed good definition despite some inevitable thinness. Effects didn’t play a huge role, but they gave us reasonable accuracy.

Music favored the treble side of the coin, but the score had decent pep and fullness. No issues with background noise or problems materialized. Nothing here made me forget the audio’s age, but the track held up nicely given its elderly vintage.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2006 “Premiere Collection” DVD? Audio sounded smoother and more dynamic, while visuals were cleaner, more accurate and more natural. Everything about the Blu-ray greatly improved on the mediocre DVD.

The Blu-ray brings over most of the DVD’s extras and adds some new ones as well. First up is a running, screen-specific audio commentary from director’s son Frank Capra Jr. He discusses how family tragedy prompted his father to launch this project as well as aspects of its development. We hear about research in DC, sets and locations, cast, characters and performances, other production notes, the film’s impact and reactions to it.

Capra’s commentary for It Happened One Night stunk, but this track proves fairly successful. Capra gets into many interesting issues such as Jean Arthur’s negative reputation on the set. A moderate amount of dead air mars the piece – especially during the film’s third act - but at least it boasts good content overall.

We get more of the same during Frank Capra Jr. Remembers... Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. This eleven-minute, 51-second piece seems somewhat superfluous since it could have been easily integrated into the commentary. The younger Capra discusses his father’s interest in the story and its themes, cast, characters and performances, and the film’s enduring appeal.

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. “Remembers” is decent on its own, however.

In addition to two trailers, 1997’s Frank Capra’s American Dream fills one hour, 49 minutes and two seconds. Hosted by Ron Howard, we get info from Frank Capra Jr., filmmakers Martin Scorsese, John Milius, Robert Altman, Garry Marshall, Marshall Herskovitz, Bill Duke, Oliver Stone, Amy Heckerling, Edward Zwick, Arthur Hiller, and Andre de Toth, producer Tom Capra, sound technician/director Edward Bernds, cinematographer Allen Daviau, film historian Jeanine Basinger, film critic Richard Schickel, Capra biographer Joseph McBride, Harry Cohn biographer Bob Thomas, and actors Michael Keaton, Richard Dreyfuss, Angela Lansbury, Peter Falk, Fay Wray, and Jane Wyatt.

“Dream” offers a basic biography of Capra, as it covers aspects of his life and movie career. At no time does “Dream” tamper with the traditional formula, but that’s fine with me. It covers Capra in a likable, reasonably informative manner that keeps us with it as it goes.

Under the banner Conversations with Frank Capra Jr., we find “The Golden Years” (17:53) and “A Family History” (25:56). In these, Capra Jr. discusses aspects of his father’s life and career. “Years” seems pretty general and banal, but “History” works surprisingly well, as the junior Capra provides a mix of good tales about his dad.

Frank Capra: Collaboration takes up 19 minutes, 20 seconds with comments from Capra Jr., Columbia University Associate Professor of Film Richard Pena, Wesleyan University Frank Capra Archives curator Jeanine Basinger, and producer/director Kenneth Bowser. As implied by the title, the featurette looks at those who worked with Capra in his films. So much of the disc’s material focuses on the director to the exclusion of all else, so it’s nice to learn more about others who helped make these classics.

Next comes the 13-minute, five-second The Frank Capra I Knew. In this, Basinger discusses Capra and her work with his Archives. Like the other shows on the disc, Basinger’s notes tend toward the glowing side of the street, but I like her perspective and think she throws out some decent insights.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington remains a compelling and entertaining movie. Though not perfect, the film entertains and proves to be a stirring morality tale. The Blu-ray delivers good picture and audio as well as a mostly informative set of supplements. I recommend this very nice release of an engaging movie.

To rate this film, visit the 2006 DVD review of MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main