I just watched Mr. Smith Goes to Washington for the first time. I loved it, like everyone else does, I guess. It’s definitely the best Senate movie I think I’ve seen, although Advise and Consent is pretty compelling. This one is just so straight-forward. So 1930s American Dream. Just as the U.S. is finally pulling itself out of the Depression, here comes Mr. Jefferson Smith to take on all the Senate corruption once and for all. That’s inspirational stuff. Never mind the fact that the antagonist of the film, Jim Taylor, a big business man who controls every company and every newspaper in the state will probably still come out on top despite Smith’s efforts, his dam building has been stopped for now and we can all rejoice in the little man.
As commonplace as a plot like this seems to us now – we are quite familiar with films attacking government figures and policies when even Star Wars is obvious – at the time Mr. Smith was denounced by some in government, and banned in fascist countries that didn’t want their citizens to see the pros of democracy.
I’ve been watching a lot of James Stewart movies lately. And while I’m fond of his westerns and Hitchcock stuff, I’m more into his pre-war persona. He was such a little boy! Of course I’m not the first to comment on his innocence or childlike demeanor. That’s basically what everyone talks about when they mention old Jimmy Stewart. But I think it works really well in films like this and Little Shop Around the Corner, where Stewart is basically a good guy manipulated by women in the right direction. In Mr. Smith, he’s totally clueless. In fact, he’s kind of just a sacrifice. And though he is behind the ultimate decision of that sacrifice, in a lot of ways he’s offered up by the ideals he represents. His bumbling, hat dropping, voice-cracking persona heightens his helplessness.
Boyishness seems to pay off in government lately,
with our votes favoring those we perceive as competent, yet also childlike, average, and supposedly innocent. Jimmy Stewart might do very well in politics today: a war hero hailing from a small town who embodied the ideal political persona of seeming in just a little over his head.
Mr. Smith finds his place in Washington. I can’t say that is true of all the boyish politicians we’ve put into office. Perhaps it’s big business, perhaps childishness isn’t quite a virtue, perhaps it’s an affair with an Argentinian soul mate, but not everyone can filibuster like Jefferson Smith.