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Classic cinema: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Last edited 24th March 2014

Classic cinema: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Directed by Frank Capra
It’s always wonderful to see when ‘the actor and the role meets,’ that is when a role seems to be tailor-made for an actor that it’s as he disappears into that character. I felt that was the case with Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and here, James Stewart seemed to have become Jefferson Smith despite not being the first choice for the role. The role was meant for Gary Cooper who was supposed to reprise a similar one he did in Mr Deeds Goes To Town (also by Capra), but he was unavailable. Having seen this film, I can’t picture anybody else but Stewart in the role.
What’s interesting about this film is that even though the subject matter is about American politics, it doesn’t concern a specific party; we’re never told if Jefferson Smith was a Republican or Democrat. The state that he and Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) come from was never mentioned, either. It’s a classic David vs Goliath story, as Smith was a nobody in the grand political scheme when a governor of the unnamed Western state picked him to replace a deceased senator. He’s picked because of his wholesome Boy Scout (or Boy Rangers in the film) image, the corrupt political boss Jim Taylor and his minions think Smith’s lack of experience think he’d be easy to manipulate. Of course things don’t go exactly to their plan.

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