Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
If anyone asks me why James Stewart is my favourite actor I just say watch the final scene of Mr Smith Goes to Washington. The final scene of this movie is simply of the greatest things I have ever seen in any film ever. That may sound like a hyperbole but I’ll never forget the very exact feeling of goose bumps I had when first watching it. Mr Smith Goes to Washington is one of only a small handful of films I would call life changing, one of the films which helped to mould the way I think and ultimately turn me into the person I am today. It encouraged me to be more skeptical, not to believe everything you here and stand for what you believe in till no end. It’s thanks to films like these why cinema is my bible. I know this all sounds corny but then this is a corny film; is there a scene in any movie more unashamedly patriotic than the montage which occurs when Smith first arrives in Washington? As much thought as Capra is criticised for his films being overly idealist, Mr Smith Goes to Washington does not exactly paint the most glowing picture of the American political system. To quote Thomas Paine, “The duty of a true patriot is to protect his country from its government”.
One of my favourite scenes of the film is in which Saunders (Jean Arthur) attempts explaining to Jefferson Smith the entire procedure of creating a bill and submitting it to congress. For starters the scene is incredibly funny with the comedic timing and Stewart’s childlike reactions. Secondly it’s a very informative civics lesson. I’m sure much has been written on the film’s deeper meaning and continuing relevance in today’s world and while I can’t profess to an expert on every nuisance on the political system works and I probably never will, despite how much I may try. Thirdly, this scene shows us how Jefferson Smith acts of the film’s ambassador the for the average Joe watching film who’s just as confounded by Sauder’s lecture as Smith is. The other very striking monologue is Mr Paine’s speech in which he justifies corruption as a comprise in order to achieve good deeds, a process which has existed since the birth democracy. As convincing as he might sound at first, through the course of the film you can tell he’s a man who knows he’s sold out on is ideals partially from the complete look of shame which bestows Claude Rains’ face. Really, if I ever met someone in elected office, I would ask them if they have seen this film.
The film is snappy and faced paced; with the culmination of some of Hollywood’s finest character acting talent helps carry the exposition in an entertaining and at times screwball like manner. I’ll also take this opportunity to raise the question, why is Jean Arthur such a forgotten actress? Despite working with several big name directors, co staring with famous actors and appearing in a number of beloved classics, her presence is incredibly overlooked as the definitive urbanite career woman with her wit, warmth and innocence. Also, that voice!
Mr Capra and Mr Stewart, thank you for this film.