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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

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Monaural
French Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 129 min.
Price: $59.95
Release Date: 12/5/2006

• Audio Commentary with Frank Capra Jr.
• “Frank Capra Jr. Remembers… Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” Featurette
• Vintage Advertising Gallery
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Booklet

Available Only as Part of “The Premiere Frank Capra Collection”


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Mr. Smith Goes To Washington: The Premiere Frank Capra Collection (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. However, 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 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 disappoints 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 C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus B-

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. An up and down transfer, the end result was satisfactory but no better.

Sharpness seemed adequate. The movie never looked especially soft, but it also failed to display terrific definition. As a result, the film usually appeared reasonably concise but not stellar. Jagged edges and shimmering stayed minor, and edge enhancement was minimal.

Source flaws created a few distractions. The movie came across as rather grainy much of the time, and a few defects crept into the image. I noticed occasional specks and marks. These remained modest.

Blacks tended to be a little too dense. Dark suits lacked definition, and other elements failed to deliver similar detail. Shadows offered decent clarity, at least, as low-light shots appeared acceptably smooth. Though Smith wasn’t a terrific visual experience, it seemed perfectly acceptable.

I thought the movie’s monaural soundtrack was similarly decent. 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. Dialogue seemed intelligible and showed good definition despite some thinness. The music appeared generally trebly and light, and effects also lacked heft.

All of these elements remained in keeping with material from 1939. The track seemed cleaner than usual, at least, as I noticed no problems with hiss, noise or other interference. Overall, the audio stayed fine for its era.

How did the picture and audio of this 2006 DVD compare to those of the original 2000 DVD? Both showed some improvements. The audio seemed crisper and smoother, while visuals appeared tighter and cleaner. Neither area blew away the old DVD, but they showed decent growth.

Smith offers a few supplemental features, all of which come from the prior DVD. 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 was a stinker, 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 and 49-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, the film's trailer appears. The Vintage Advertising section provides 12 different promotional graphics for the movie.

As part of “The Premiere Frank Capra Collection”, we get an extensive booklet. This piece covers Washington along with four other Capra flicks and different aspects of his career and life in the 1930s. It comes with a mix of photos and other archival materials along with good information. It acts as a quality component.

This disc drops a few minor extras from the original release. It loses trailers for It Happened One Night and Lost Horizon as well as talent files for Capra, James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains and Edward Arnold and a booklet with brief but informative production notes.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington deserves a guarded recommendation. The can be a bit corny but it’s rousing in its earnestness. The DVD provides acceptable picture and audio plus a few decent supplements. This acts as a reasonably positive rendition of the film.

Note that this release of Mr. Smith currently appears only as part of “The Premiere Frank Capra Collection”. This set also includes It Happened One Night, American Madness, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, You Can’t Take It With You, and a documentary called Frank Capra’s American Dream.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.909 Stars Number of Votes: 11
3 3:
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