‘Liberty’s too precious a thing to be buried in books…’
Jimmy Stewart was Tom Hanks before Tom Hanks was Tom Hanks. He is the epitome of wide eyed optimism. There is nothing more wholesome than the sight of Stewart sprinting down a snowy street, screaming MERRY CHRISTMAS, BEDFORD FALLS! at the top of his lungs. It’s an image that is seared into the consciousness of cinema goers everywhere. An iconic Christmas scene that is still beloved almost 75 years on. Mr Smith Goes to Washington was another collaboration between director Frank Capra and star Jimmy Stewart, and while it isn’t quite on the same level of It’s a Wonderful Life, its eight Oscar nominations are a testament to how good a film it is.
When a US senator passes away suddenly, a naïve, idealistic fella (Stewart) is chosen to be a stooge in the senate. The eponymous Jefferson Smith has other ideas, and soon finds his idealism colliding with political corruption.
A simple premise then, but one that is captivating and compelling throughout, albeit a concept that is carried by Stewart and his talented co-stars. To say Capra’s film was released in 1939, it has aged remarkably well (aside from one genuinely ludicrous scene in which Jeff Smith goes around Washington punching all the journalists that have cast shade on him), and this is confirmation of the fact that some themes remain universal. We all live. We all love. We all die. Politicians are corrupt. So it always was and ever will be. I also particularly enjoyed the fact that Mr Smith’s mood at any given moment is represented visually by how unkempt his hair is.
Mr Smith Goes to Washington is too long, the ending arrives too abruptly and the characters are often thinly drawn (if wonderfully performed), but we are talking about a work released on the eve of the Second World War for chrissakes. The fact that it is even remotely watchable is demonstrable, incontrovertible proof that Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra were able to produce some kind of alchemy when brought together. A classic that remains compelling and captivating even after all these years. Cherish it.