ClassicFlix (Teen Scene) – Review #4: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

From March 2015 to April 2017, I was writing the monthly Teen Scene column for the website ClassicFlix. My objective was to promote classic films among teenagers and young adults. Due to the establishing of a new version of the website, it’s now more difficult to access to the old version and read the reviews. But, I’m allowed to publish my reviews on my blog 30 days after they had been published on ClassicFlix! So, I decided to do so as you could have an easy access to them. If you are not a teenager, it doesn’t matter! I’m sure you can enjoy them just the same! My fourth review was for the 1939’s classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington directed by Frank Capra. Enjoy!

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Do you sometimes watch a movie that just makes you want to live your life the best you can; that gives you a sort of power, courage and determination? That’s how I feel when I watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. A movie like this can be nothing but beneficial for people who watch it, especially the young ones who are just at the beginning of their lives and who will face many challenges during their adult life. That’s why I, for my June article of the Teen Scene, decided to review Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and try to convince adolescents that this is a movie they should like or, may I say, love.

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The great Frank Capra directed Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in 1939. The cast includes some incredible actors such as James Stewart (as Jefferson Smith), Jean Arthur (Clarissa Saunders), Claude Rains (Joseph Paine), Thomas Mitchell (Diz Moore), Edward Arnold (Jim Taylor) and many more. The film was nominated for a total of 11 Oscars, but won only one of them: Best Writing, Original Story (Lewis R. Foster). 1939 was known as the greatest year in cinema with masterpieces such as Gone With the Wind, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz and, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington all being released.

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This is the one teens should watch first above the others; the one that will invite them to see many other classics and open the door to the golden age of cinema. Some people will say The Wizard of Oz is THE classic every young person should people see, but that’s the problem: they have already seen it, even people not interested in classic films. So we move directly to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, something closer to the reality, and find a movie that will give you strength.

As it says in the title, the story of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington takes place in Washington D.C. After the sudden death of Senator Sam Foley, Hubert “Happy” Hopper (Guy Kibbee) has to name a new Senator. That’s not an easy job, but one evening during dinner, his children suggest he elect Jefferson Smith, a young Boy Ranger chief. According to them, he will be the perfect man for the job. Shortly after, Jefferson Smith is the new senator. Once in the Senate he meets colleague, Senator Joseph Paine, an old friend of his late father. Smith is an idealist, but he’s also a little naive.

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He soon has to face Jim Taylor, the state political boss, who will try to corrupt him, but also Joseph Paine’s false accusations against him. Smith’s big project as the new senator is to open a national boys camp. However, Taylor and his team already have the idea to build a dam on the same land where Smith wants the camp to be. So, Taylor’s objective will be to destroy Smith and, for that, he will not hesitate to manipulate the press and Joseph Paine. With the help of his secretary, Clarissa Saunders, Jefferson Smith will find the courage to face Taylor and his power.

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In my opinion, many Frank Capra’s films could interest teenagers (It’s a Wonderful Life, Meet John Doe, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, etc.), but I chose Mr. Smith Goes to Washington because I’ve always felt this film was made for young people. Indeed, Senator Smith is a young man and he is the hero for American youth. His objective is to prove that, with determination, you can never fail. Or, at least, if you fail, you have to try again instead of giving up. Also, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a patriotic film, very American. I’m not American, but I enjoyed it greatly. As a matter of fact, although it’s set in the United States, it’s the kind of movie that could be set in many places making Smith as a model for people all over the world, young and old.

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It’s a movie full of wonderful surprises, soul, life and emotion, a movie that deserves to be applauded when “The End” appears on screen. Young people will not feel they are watching something boring, something unnecessary. They will also enjoy the James Stewart-Jean Arthur duo as they have such great chemistry together. The movie wouldn’t have been the same without them. The two actors also starred in another Frank Capra film two years prior: You Can’t Take It With You.

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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is another movie I first saw in class. I was 18 at the time. I remember the other students liked it as well.

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