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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

    This film is a classic. Rarely has any collaboration between director and actor been as valuable and significant as that between Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart. Their three films, “You Can’t Take It With You” (1938), “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” (1939), and “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946) hold special places in film history. However, “Mr. Smith” is a sure sign of the times it which it was produced. Today’s audiences may find themes that are reminders of what this country has tried so hard to overcome – and what still remains.

    Capra addresses the corruption in American government through Smith, an idealistic young man that is the hero of boys and a nuisance to men. It is not specified which state he hails from, but it must be somewhere in the Midwest, which is a typical place for the pure of heart to be bred. Smith is selected as Senator at the intense suggestion of the puppet governor’s sons, who are members of Smith’s Boy Rangers.

    Later it is revealed that Smith’s father and the current Senator, Paine, had been friends and fighters for lost causes. Paine must face his past self and his sacrifices as Smith’s colleague. Smith had but one goal while in office: to set up a 200 acre summer camp for boys across the country to learn and live together. The problem is that Smith’s ideal 200 acres are the exact location of where Senator Paine and Jim Taylor, the corrupt political machine of the State, plan to build a personally profitable dam. Paine frames Smith for already owning the land and cheating the boys of their money. Smith fights back by using the rules of Congress against its members until Paine wears down and comes clean.

    It is during this climax that the corruption really shows what it can do. Jim Taylor’s connections and influence manage to rally the people of Smith’s state against Smith by using all the newspapers, radio stations, and billboards of the region. It is very uneasy to watch. Meanwhile, Smith is doing all he can to stay standing and speaking for over 23 hours.

    Racism, sexism, politics, control over information and American ideals are all included, but show great negativity. Not until the end is one theme resolved.

    African-Americans appear only in servant-like roles, whether carriers of heavy luggage at the train station or waiters in a bar. And they have very few lines.

    There are a variety of women in the story, but again given stereotypical characteristics. Clarissa Saunders is Smith’s secretary who knows more about Congress and the process of voting on a bill than Smith does, who considers himself a history buff. She is fast-talking, quick-witted, and disillusioned. Her competitor, Susan Paine, is the beautiful one and only supposed to keep Smith distracted. It is a war of brains and beauty. But brains won over beauty because it is Saunders’ mind and help that attracts him at the end.

    Even though there is a fight between the women, there is no contest between girls and boys because the former are not once mentioned. For all Mr. Smith believes in, equality between girls and boys is not included. When he speaks of the camp he’d like to set up it is only for boys and does not suggest an alternative for the girls of America. Despite Saunders’ working very well at her job, the future’s American women are still supposed to stay at home and raise the children.

    When Smith first arrives in Washington, he is hypnotized by the Capital dome and later finds himself at Lincoln’s feet in complete admiration. In the end he returns to the memorial to say good-bye. No longer is he the naive boy-man, but a wiser politician that has learned what makes the country run and decided he will not give in to the corruption. He still believes in the American government but now understands that it takes work to keep it good.

    Nearly 70 years after the release of “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” America is a different place, and mostly for the better. However, there is an even greater distrust in government. Do we need a modern Jefferson Smith?

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