Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939). Director: Frank Capra.

Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) is tapped to fill a senatorial seat by politicos who think he'll be easy to manipulate; even his new secretary, Clarissa (Jean Arthur) thinks he's a dope -- at least at first. Smith is befriended by a man he admires, Senator Paine (Claude Rains), unaware that this otherwise decent person will painfully betray him for his own ends when Smith winds up on the wrong side of a shady land deal. Edward Arnold [The Houston Story], Guy Kibbee [Babbitt], and Eugene Pallette are a variety of political types maneuvering behind the scenes, and Thomas Mitchell is an intrepid reporter, Diz. This is a fast-paced, entertaining picture that in its dissection of political corruption, crap, and crumb bums is as timely today  as it was way back in '39, and it gives Stewart one of his best roles. Initially unsympathetic, Arthur also scores, and there's a great supporting cast, topped by a superb Claude Rains who nearly walks off with the movie [as was so often the case] -- his final scenes are mesmerizing. One could argue that when it comes to the famous filibuster climax, Smith was awfully lucky that the wise old president of the Senate (Harry Carey) was in his corner. Among the film's many memorable moments are a dinner table scene with the governor (Kibbee), a whole bunch of kids, and even Baby Dumpling (Larry Simms)! Other cast members include everyone from Grant Mitchell and Pierre Watkin to Ann Doran and William Frawley!

Verdict: A great picture from Frank Capra and his talented company. ***1/2. 

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