Sunday, October 03, 2010

52 Films in 52 Weeks: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

I'm doing terribly at this endeavor. With less than three months left in the year, I have only watched five of the 52 films on my list. Tonight I managed to cross Mr. Smith Goes to Washington off the list. This was a film I have always wanted to see--a deeply beloved classic. TCM aired it this weekend and I sat myself down to watch.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is exactly what I expected it to be, an entertaining and empowering piece of political schmaltz. Mr. Smith is too good to be true, and obviously someone as decent and innocent as he will never get elected in today's world. This is a film that would never work in today's very cynical days, but I think even the darkest cynic can not help but be moved to action by Mr. Smith's display of heroic filibustering in the film. If only there was at least one Mr. Smith in today's Congress. I think Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ought to be required annual viewing for members of Congress so that they can realign their priorities.

In technical terms, though, there's not much to discuss about Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. There's nothing groundbreaking about it. What its classic status rests on is its simple but heartwarming story and the power and appeal of the performances by Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur. Few people can pull of what Stewart does here, turning a rather dull, innocent of a character into someone appealing. Mr. Smith is almost too good, but Stewart makes us believe that such a person can exist and even be interesting. Stewart's performance takes off when he begins to discover that his fellow senators are not the well-meaning politicians he thought they were. The sense of betrayal and disappointment Stewart communicates through his eyes is heartbreaking.

My favorite performance, though, is Harry Carey's wry portrayal of the President of the Senate. With his bemused smile Carey creates a character who is pragmatic but not so broken that he fails to see the decency and strength of purpose displayed by Mr. Smith. The enjoyment he gets out of seeing the young senator filibuster and prove everyone wrong is one of the film's biggest delights.

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