Sunday, April 20, 2014
MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON
(October 1939, U.S.)
These so-called coincidental "double features" that occasionally take place on my blog never cease to put a smile on my face. Two Frank Capra classics and two "MR's" in a row. Ain't life just one big humorous kick in the ass (and clearly I'm the only one who can get any sort of kick out of this crap!)??
So, having dove deep into the great American spirit that Frank Capra possesses in his film during my last blog of MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN, I see no need to repeat what I would call the bloody obvious for this next film; widely considered one of his most popular films of all time right next to IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. This time, however, the great courage and determination of the human spirit is up against the corrupt politics of Washington D.C., and that sort of monster hasn't changed much in many generations!
Mr. Jefferson Smith (played by Capra regular James Stewart) is about as homegrown American innocence and idealism as one could possibly find on the movie screen. He's the all-American man who's loved by his hometown, supports the local Boy Rangers organization, puts out forest fires and truly believes in his heart of the honestly and integrity of our precious American government. In other words, people, the man is a born schmuck on wheels! And apparently, it's just this sort of naïve schmuck who's a perfect candidate to take a newly-available seat in the American senate; a perfect stooge who will "play ball" and take orders from more influential and corrupt politicians who have put together the perfectly-oiled machine that run an entire state just the way they want it. Junior Senator Smith is taken under the wing of the publicly esteemed, but secretly crooked, Senator Joseph Paine (played by Claude Rains), who was Smith's late father's friend. Smith's naïve and honest nature allows the unforgiving press of Washington to take full advantage of him, quickly tarnishing Smith's reputation with ridiculous front page pictures and headlines branding him a moronic bumpkin.
For no other purpose than to just keep him busy and out of the serious affairs of corrupt politics, Paine suggests he propose a bill before the Senate. With the help of his secretary, Clarissa Saunders (played by Jean Arthur), who was the aide to Smith's predecessor and had been around Washington and politics for years, Smith comes up with a bill to authorize a federal government loan to buy some land in his home state for a national boys' camp, to be paid back by young boys all across America. However, the proposed campsite is already part of a dam-building graft scheme included in an appropriations bill framed by the corrupt Jim Taylor (played by Edward Arnold) "political machine" and supported by Senator Paine, as well. Through Paine, the machine in his state accuses Jefferson Smith himself of trying to profit from his bill by producing fraudulent evidence that Smith already owns the land in question. And so, like many other Capra characters, our hero is now up against the powerful walls of those who would seek to destroy him with seemingly no way out, and in turn, as is also the Capra way, our hero eventually lifts his head up and stands a firm ground to defend himself and the ideals of innocence he holds true. Before the entire Senate, Smith launches a filibuster to postpone the appropriations bill and prove his innocence on the Senate floor just before the vote to expel him can take effect. In his last chance to prove himself, he talks non-stop for nearly twenty-four hours, reaffirming the (so-called) American ideals of freedom and disclosing the true motives of the dam scheme. In the end, of course, righteousness triumphs over corruption and all is supposedly happily ever-after...because that's just the Capra way of doing things!
Despite Frank Capra's positive sense of morals and ideals, it's pretty clear that he frowned upon the American government as a whole. Like death and taxes, it would seem that politics and corruption were as much a certainty as they are today. For 1939, however, it came off as a much lighter load of financial greed and dishonesty as opposed to something a little more late 20th Century like secret Monica Lewinsky blowjobs in the White House or even something a little more 21st Century like secret financial dealings with foreign terrorists, both pre and post 9-11. Any way that you slice it, governments (even ours!) are corrupt to the bone and it's only in a Frank Capra film that someone is likely to stand up against it all. It's even more likely in a Frank Capra film that such a person might actually win!
By the way, speaking of Monica Lewinsky - quick story (no, I didn't come on her dress, also!). I remember back in 1998 when the entire scandal broke loose, I was having a conversation with a friend about it. My friend was not only appalled by the incident that took place between President Clinton and the girl, but was also appalled at the fact that Clinton brazenly lied about it before the TV cameras. I, on the other hand, was not only not surprised that such a thing could take place in the White House, but fully expected our dear President to lie about it! My friend was taken aback by my negative and cynical attitude, but it was my opinion that we as Americans could not afford to be so naïve and so aloof as to actually expect our Commander-in-Chief to tell the truth in the face of scandal, at least not without putting up a good fight first. Politicians lie! That's the way it is, has been, and always will be! Getting upset or trying to fight it will not change it! We, as ordinary citizens, lie, too! Are we so stupid to think that those we put in charge aren't going to do it, too?? Apparently, Frank Capra wasn't that stupid, despite his positive hopes for humanity!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jefferson Smith: "Mr. President, I stand guilty as FRAMED! Because section 40 is graft! And I was ready to say so, I was ready to tell you that a certain man in my state, a Mr. James Taylor, wanted to put through this dam for his own profit. A man who controls a political machine! And controls everything else worth controlling in my state. Yes, and a man even powerful enough to control Congressmen, and I saw three of them in his room the day I went up to see him!"