Mr. Smith Goes to Washington runs on just the sort of idealism that gave director Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life) his reputation for cornball sentimentality. Yet Capra could pull this tone off better than anyone, especially when he teamed up with James Stewart, an actor of towering sincerity. Stewart stars here as Jefferson Smith, a novice senator picked by a corrupt political machine that expects him to vote as he’s told. When Smith starts thinking for himself, he finds the entire Senate lined up against him. The movie’s signature scene – Smith’s exhausted filibuster on the Senate floor – is stirring enough to get even the most jaded 20-something into a voting booth. Stewart’s Smith not only makes you believe in democracy, but he makes you want to. The sparkling supporting cast includes Thomas Mitchell as a seen-it-all reporter; Claude Rains as Smith’s conflicted mentor; and, most invaluably, Jean Arthur, continuing that great ’30s tradition of showcasing female intelligence as well as beauty in the role of Smith’s politically savvy secretary.
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