Frank Capra’s political comedy-drama movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, that was produced and directed in 1939 was and still is a very creative and gripping movie. This film defined James Stewart acting as Jefferson Smith as the leading actor who is devoted as a good old American boy thereby bringing out the theme of one man’s effect on the American politics. The film which opens with successive shouting of reporters in annunciating the death of Senator Samuel Foley leads into a conversation between the states’ senior Senator, Joseph Pain (Claude Rains), who calls to Governor Hubert “Happy” Hopper (Guy Kibbee) reporting the matter. In turn, Hopper calls on Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold), a powerful media magnate who adversely has control over the state together with other lawmakers in order to appoint a temporal senator to fill in the position left by Senator Foley.
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As projected in the film, during Senator Foley’s term, Taylor had proffered a pork barrel bill that would allow the financing of unnecessary dam at Willet Creek. He warns Hopper that he requires a senator that “can not question or talk about” the corrupt deals he had set out. But after having successive rejection of a number of appointees based on suggestion of his children, Jefferson Smith was nominated by Hopper, a renowned leader of the state’s group of Boy Rangers. It is the character of Smith that represents the powerful forces of American freedom, democracy, and morality over oppression and evil especially those attributed to corrupt dealings (Vere, 2009). This is captured through his portrait of being a naive, idealistic, and patriotic young politician whose actions after being a junior senator were envisaged as a symbol of liberty and democracy. By this, the film gives out political responsibility that is essential in understanding political studies.
In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Capra does a very good job especially by using certain characters or group of characters in representing parts of the film. It is from such inclusion that the film was nominated for the 11 Academy Awards thereby winning the Best Original Story. It was also added to the U.S. National Film Registry as being a culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant (Vere, 2009). There is rivalry between Jim Taylor and Senator Joe Pain towards the appointment of a senator to take over. Taylor is a very rich, powerful, and corrupt businessman who controls most politicians and many newspapers through political machine. His good reputation and decent intentions notwithstanding, Senator Paine is adversely controlled by corrupt political forces. The dissent between these two camps challenges governor’s decision making process which he believes could harm his political future.
Smith is therefore pointed out not because of his naivety or being devoid of greed and political ambitions, but rather because it is believed that he would be able to be corrupt in future. The movie, thus, portrayed the U.S. politics as very corrupt especially by denoting that one is only appointed or can stay in the office if he/she is able to make deals for others personal gains rather than for the good of the people. While it is evident that the true source of power is not the governor himself, but rather Jim Taylor, it is important to note that whoever is appointed is not expected to rock the boat of political intrigues. This is why Senator Paine is evidently seen in the film being instructed by the governor and his men to take the young Mr. Smith not only to keep him out of trouble, but as well to help him decide on how to vote.
Consequently, the character of Senator Paine in the film denotes how great American citizens whose ideals conform to decency and democracy are converted to be the most corrupt due to suborn organizational structure. Senator Joe Paine is portrayed as a hero to Jefferson because he remembered how his father “reverend and idolized Senator Paine as a pillar of virtue; the finest man he ever knew” (Klabunde, 2007). This gave Jefferson high hopes on him and more importantly made him grateful to be able to serve the city which he associated with democratic ideals of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. But surprisingly, Jefferson come to realize that Washington is a mean-spirited and corrupt town, and that Senator Paine was one of the most corrupt people within the city.
On the other hand, the plot of the film brings out the theme of good versus evil. Even though Smith is not a professional politician, he is a professional Boy Scout, a nave person with strong morals and a good heart (Klabunde, 2007). On the contrary, he fights at Taylor, a man who is not a professional politician but a newspaper publisher who adversely owns politicians. Being a man with very little money and power, Smith uses his rights as power that keeps him fighting against Taylor. While Taylor uses newspapers in trying to sway public opinion, Smith uses a gang of children in distributing small printing press to people (Klabunde, 2007). This portrays Smith as a junior senator from un-named state who not only matures in wisdom, but as well fights political corruption (evil) in order to safe guard American moral values (good).
In conclusion, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a reputable film that not only served its time of war in adequately defending American values, but it also incorporated in it the fight towards the same. While age will continue to remove the realistic qualities of such movie, it is imperative to note that its incorporation of strong willed men of character like Jefferson Smith gives strong and high hopes of fighting corruption no matter how wide it has spread.
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