Tuesday, September 15, 2009

1939 - Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

I'm back! Although I enjoyed an immensely fun time performing in an improv show every night and meeting some fantastic new people, my fondest memory of the last few days in Atlanta is my discovery of Whirlyball. Half sport, half amusement park ride, Whirlyball is like lacrosse in bumper cars. Yes, bumper cars. I defy you to play this game and not enjoy yourself.

An unfortunate consequence of my time in Georgia is the considerable delay in viewing the next Best Picture nominee, a delay that disrupts the six-movies-per-week viewing rate that is required for this project to be completed by its arbitrary deadline. Rather than suffer the humiliation of admitting defeat less than a month into the project, I will simply continue at a slightly more leisurely pace and worry about it later. Besides, with things becoming a tad busier for me, less frequent posts may have been an inevitable byproduct anyway. But fear not. I am still as passionately determined to see this project through to the end. It just might be an end with a later date than originally planned. Then again, you never know, I might just have a big movie marathon weekend at some point and find myself back on track without the need to extend the deadline.

Last night was time for the ninth of the nominees from 1939...

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington
Frank Capra
Sidney Buchman and Lewis R. Foster
James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Thomas Mitchell, Edward Arnold
Academy Awards:
11 nominations
1 win, for Best Original Story

The ultimate underdog story, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington pits a fresh-faced Senator against the corruptible political machine. Jefferson Smith is unexpectedly appointed as the Senator for an unnamed state, a move which has political boss Jim Taylor furious. Taylor essentially runs the state, controlling the Governor and the senior Senator, Joseph Paine, a man who Mr. Smith admires greatly... Until he learns of Paine's complicity in Taylor's corrupt political scheming. When Mr. Smith tries to pass a bill that inadvertently conflicts with a Taylor-supported bill, he finds himself beaten down, trodden on, chewed up and spat out. Despite his newfound disillusionment in the system, he remains standing, refusing to back down.

Delightfully droll and thoughtfully sincere, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington delivers an interesting message. On the one hand, it could be argued that the film is passionately critical of a corrupt system of government, and I imagine, at the time of the film's release, Senators must have been beside themselves. How dare Hollywood accuse them all of crookedness. And Nixon wasn't around for at least another 30 years. On the other hand (and clearly the more correct hand), the film's intention may be to illustrate the inspiring results that can be achieved by one man's dedication to stand up for what he believes in. For all its bashing of the political machine, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington is a most patriotic film, evidenced by its use of every single patriotic song known to man.

It is also a film in which punching journalists in the face is not only acceptable but encouraged. After all, the press is just as corrupt as the government. They need a good smack in the mouth. And Jefferson Smith is just the man to do it. He may be idealistic and naive, but he can still pack a punch ... or seven. In fact, that's what's so adorable about him (and James Stewart's portrayal). Despite being so innocent, he still has the courage to stand up to the bullies, even playing them at their own political game. There's nothing like being the little guy to garner the audience's empathy. And providing us with that opportunity to empathise are some simply captivating scenes on the Senate floor in which Mr. Smith braves his Goliath.

Director Frank Capra assembled a fabulous cast. An on-the-rise James Stewart cemented his screen persona as Mr. Smith. Claude Rains is superb as the corrupt senior Senator. As is Jean Arthur as Mr. Smith's aide and love interest (a political sex scandal sub-plot never arises, however). And the prolific Thomas Mitchell appears in yet another 1939 Best Picture nominee as the one decent press man.

Apparently, there were scenes that were shot, intended for the end, but not included in the final film. I feel as though they may have added to a more satisfying resolution. As it stands, the ending is rather abrupt and a little disconcerting.

Only one more to go in the mighty juggernaut that is 1939...

1 comment:

  1. Good ol' Capra Corn. He certainly knew how to push the buttons of sentimentality and optimism. I don't mind being manipulated if the emotions I feel seem genuine. It's hard not to get a little choked up watching Jimmy Stewart's collapse after his cracking voice gives out. Lots of good supporting performances in this one. Especially fine was Edward Arnold as the evil Taylor. Just the previous year, Capra cast him as James Stewart's father in You Can't Take it With you. I think Capra cast the right lead actor for his most successful films: Clark Gable in It Happened One Night, Gary Cooper in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It's a Wonderful Life.