Last night, my family and I sat down to watch a wonderful movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It's a Frank Capra film, and is also - I do believe - the film that made Jimmy Stuart (Mr. Smith) famous.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is the story of a young man plucked out of 'the wilderness' and thrust into the dirty world of politics. It was interesting to discover, while watching the first several scenes, that politics hasn't really changed all that much. There is still those underhanded dealings and powerful political manipulations.
The story opens with a Senator's death and the other Senator (Sen. Paine, the Governor and the newspaper owner's (Mr. Taylor) struggle to pick out just the right man for the job. Someone who will take orders without complaint or any questions. Such a man is imperative, because the aforementioned three are all involved in the illegal dealings.... concerning a dam, and Willit Creek. (Remember that.) Well Mr. Taylor, who pretty much controls Sen. Paine and the Governor, wants one candidate and no one else, but the public violently wants another man. The poor governor is worn thin between the two opinions until his children suggest Jefferson Smith, leader of the Boy Rangers and the hero of all the kids and the parents in the state. So Mr. Smith it is!
One of my favorite things about Mr. Smith is the fact that he is so intensely patriotic and interested in the history of the country, like myself. As one character wryly remarks upon the arrival in D.C. "My head is swollen twice its size. I never knew our country had that much history."
Mr. Smith does not have an easy start, due to misquotations by the newspapermen, but Senator Paine, a good friend of Mr. Smith's father, helps him out and suggests that Smith propose a bill of his own. Smith gets excited about that and has his secretary Miss Saunders help him write it all in one night! The bill that Smith dearly wants to get passed concerns starting a boys camp, to get the boys out of the cities and into the wilderness, where they can learn how to be men and how to be free, to learn to value their country. He drops a bomb on certain Congressmen when he proposes that it be built on .... you guessed it .... Willit Creek, the very creek that Sen. Paine, Taylor and a few others had bought illegally.
Mr. Smith - after being kept out of the senate so he wouldn't find out - finds out about the plans for the dam. The execution begins. Paine at first tries to get Smith to cooperate, but when Smith refuses, Paine does the worst thing anyone could ever do, he betrays Smith and accuses him of - among other things - blackmail, lying, and stealing.
After a particularly vicious attack and denial from Mr. Paine, the man whom Smith has admired all of his life, Smith wants to run back to his state. Saunders - who has fallen in love with the naive senator - convinces him to stay and fight for his reputation and for the truth. The next day in the Senate, Jefferson Smith sets out to do just that.
When the President grants Smith the floor, I couldn't help feeling the urge to cheer when Smith reveals that he can and will keep the floor until he has proven that he is innocent of any charge. He wants the people of his state to hear what he has to say, so they know he is telling the truth. In order to keep the floor, he cannot sit down, nor can he stop talking. The battle now begins, with Smith holding power over the Senate and Taylor (who controls all of the newspapers) spreading lies back in the home state.
I absolutely love the scene when, after Smith has been talking for 7 1/2 hours, a fellow Senator rises and asks him if he would be willing to give up the floor so they can go to bed and re-adjourn in the morning. Smith turns to the President and asks if he will still have the floor if they do so. When he is told that he will not have it unless the Chair grants it to him, Smith nods and then starts up again with "The Constitution of the United States!"
Eventually, the truth does come through, but I won't tell you how, for fear of ruining the story.
This is a great movie, about one man standing up against the lies and corruption of Washington, no matter what. It is a story of courage and perseverance; Mr. Smith ends up talking for a few minutes short of a whole day. I couldn't help but wonder if any of the Senators that we have would have the determination, the honesty or the courage to fight for the truth for that long. Would any of us be able to, for that matter? Or would we simply resign ourselves to a ruined reputation and go home?
One of the things I love about old films, is that back then it was still OK to mention God, to quote the Bible in film productions and no one would protest. Mr. Smith quotes the Bible several times during his long fight, and if those had been left out, I don't think you could have gotten the point of the film across to your audience. I am sure they would have found a way around it, but it wouldn't have had the same meaning and depth as it did.
I highly recommend watching this film, especially during this political campaign filled with lies and ruthless power-grabbing. In addition to a valuable lesson in loving our neighbor as yourself, I also learned a lot about how the Senate works as well as how a bill gets passed. It's a wonderful, clean, family-friendly film and a real treat to watch. You can't go wrong, when Mr. Smith Goes to Washington!