Essay, Pages 4 (787 words)
The movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)1 produced and directed by Frank Capra2 has been viewed historically as both a symbol of patriotism and an attack on the United States government. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington narrates the journey of James Stewart’s3 character Jefferson Smith, leader of the group called the Boy Rangers, from average man to United States Senator. Smith was chose to fill a vacancy in the Senate even though he lacked political experience.
The senators, Jim Taylor4 and Joseph Paine5, in cooperation with Governor Hubert Hoover, purposely chose Jefferson Smith because they believed his lack of political expertise would allow them too smoothly pass their bill, which involved the use of land at Willet Creek to build a dam and, in turn, make money.
Capra follows Jefferson Smith to Washington and shows Smith’s struggle to prove himself as a worthy senator. After his swearing in, Jefferson Smith, with the encouragement of Senator Paine, plans to propose a bill to the Senate creating a boys’ camp for the Boy Rangers on the land at Willet Creek.
Paine hopes the bill will keep Smith busy while the others finish the work to get the bill for the dam at Willet Creek passed. Smith’s secretary, Clarissa Saunders6, helps the senator write up his bill to take to the Senate floor. Later, when Paine finds out about Smith’s plan for the land at Willet Creek, he attempts to distract Senator Smith; however, during a drunken stupor, Saunders blurts to Smith about the bill to use Willet Creek as a dam site and the way the senators have used him.
Smith, enraged, rushes to Paine’s house to confront him.
The following day on the Senate floor, Smith attempts to attack Paine and Taylor, but Paine interjects with charges that Smith’s boys’ camp has personal motives and that Smith is in fact the one who is acting inappropriately. Smith ends up in front of a committee for a hearing regarding the charges Paine and Taylor brought against him, and Jefferson Smith, disheveled by the false accusations, decides to give up his seat in the Senate. Later that night, Saunders finds Senator Smith at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and she introduces the idea of the filibuster.
Jefferson Smith attends the meeting of the Senate the next day and begins a speech regarding the corruption of the senators. This speech leads into a nearly 24-hour long filibuster7 where Smith speaks on the democracy of the United States, patriotism, and the virtues of man. During Smith’s speech, Senator Taylor spreads to the press negative remarks about Smith’s filibuster. Although Paine brings in massive amounts of telegrams telling Smith to stop and telling Smith about the riot of the Boy Rangers, he keeps going until he can no longer stand and faints.
Upon a brief recess of the Senate, Paine attempts suicide, but instead returns to the Senate floor to confess his guilt. The plot of the film details the corruption of Senators Paine and Taylor and the fearlessness of Senator Jefferson Smith. The contrast between scandal and patriotism has historically caused varied opinions of the movie. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington8 was greeted with controversy at its premiere sponsored by the National Press Club in Washington, D. C. at the capital on October 17, 19399 (Hanson 1411). Nearly a third of the people in attendance that day walked out of the filming in a fury10 (Alter 78).
Several Senators, who disliked the content of the film, went on record to the press making slanderous comments about Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Some senators felt the need to defend themselves against Capra’s portrayal of Senators Paine and Taylor with comments like “not all senators are sons of bitches” (Alter 78). Senate majority leader, Alben Barkley, said of Mr. Smith, “It was as grotesque as anything I’ve ever seen . . . a travesty” (Carson 27). Records also state that the Senate, after the viewing of the film, pushed to get the Neely Anti-Block Booking Bill11 passed to get back at Hollywood for releasing the film (Hanson 1411).
Part of Washington’s dismay over the film may have to do with the realism of many aspects of the actual movie. Frank Capra went as far as to have a full-scale reproduction of the Senate Chamber built12 (“Hollywood Stages” 67). Set designers went into great length to make sure the desks, pencils, and inkwells were almost exact doubles of the actual items found in the Senate (“Hollywood Stages” 67). The casting of the extras for the Senate scenes were limited to men who resembled the average senator- men near the age of 52, 5’11” tall, 174 pounds, and with graying hair (“Hollywood Stages” 67).