For Reel

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
January 1, 2014, 6:09 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Frank Capra
5 Stars
Mr. Smith Goes to WashingtonLong before it became fashionable to rag on corruption within the American government, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington emerged as a force of nature–as cynical a depiction of congress as audiences had seen in years, and also a call-to-arms for a new breed of politician. Its wild success can be attributed to its hopeful, naive optimism which argued that an honest country boy could make things right because, dammit, that’s what a democracy is. Even if director Frank Capra is oft-criticized for his sentimentality, just as important to his craft is his recognition of despair–even in It Happened One Night (hardly a political film), Capra takes a moment to consider the effects of the Depression on a small town. What makes the contrived ending of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington serviceable is that it is simultaneously a transcendent moment of victory and also one of almost surreal darkness. What other film has a happy ending that includes a suicide attempt and a full-scale nervous breakdown? Although the shocking contrivance services the sentimental vision of democracy that Capra so dearly believed in, it is also a nod to the realist notion that the government can’t change until there is a full-scale resurrection. Senator Joseph Paine’s (Claude Rains) botched suicide is in fact a death of his ideals, marking a radical transition for the character’s sense of morality and suggesting the need for a similar governmental rebirth.

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