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I'm not a film critic, but I'll tell you what I think about the movies I watch. I enjoy understanding the history behind the movies we watch, as well as the collaborative effort necessary to produce movies.

Jimmy Stewart: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Frank Capra created some of the most memorable films in American history. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington stands out as one of the best, in which Jimmy Stewart gave one of the finest performances of his young career in this 1939 classic.

The role of Jefferson Smith, a newly appointed Senator, might as well have been written for Stewart. The film focuses on the appointment of an unlikely young man to the empty senate seat of his home state. While under the guidance of his late father’s good friend Smith writes a bill to establish a camp for the young men of America. This bill opens him up to the wrath and dirty underworld of politics. All the while, a humble Smith maintains his faith in the United States government.

In addition to Jimmy Stewart, this film features Jean Arthur and Claude Rains. Arthur plays Clarissa, Smith’s secretary and unlikely supporter as she loses her willingness to be part of the machine. Forced to bring a naive Smith into the 20th century, Clarissa finds herself caught up in the boyish enthusiasm he carries with him. Claude Rains plays Senator Joseph Paine, friend to the father of Senator Smith. Paine becomes tangled in this drama and becomes a conflicted villain in the end.

This is a magical film about the idealism of young Americans. Smith is a simple man who believes in the United States and seeks to do good. Each of the actors did a wonderful job creating a movie that has the feel of all the great Capra pictures. Like It’s a Wonderful Life, this movie takes advantage of Jimmy Stewart’s ability to make you believe. In the famous filibuster scene he works his magic as a desperate and honest man reaching out for help. His efforts were even rewarded with a nomination for Best Actor by the Academy Awards. Rains also brought forth a masterful performance in the film as he transforms from senior Senator to desperate man.

Like many of Stewart’s other works, he was flanked by great stars. Jean Arthur had begun her career in silent films and went on to star in films like Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Shane.  Frank Capra called her his “favorite actress” and she was also nominated for an Oscar in 1944 for The More The Merrier.

Claude Rains would also find success throughout a long career as a wonderful supporting actor. He succeeded with roles in Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, and Notorious. Perhaps the most impressive note on his career are his four nominations for Best Supporting Actor, he made the Supporting Actor role an A-list job.

As I continue my focus on Jimmy Stewart I hope that you, the readers, are able to explore the life and works of this man for yourselves. I’ll continue with many films over several genres and multiple decades, each of which will show the versatility of an actor often accused of playing the same man in every role.


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12 Comments on “Jimmy Stewart: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)”

  1. Pattie November 7, 2011 at 11:30 AM #

    I LOVE this movie :) Glad someone blogged about it!


  2. Stephen Walter November 8, 2011 at 8:41 AM #

    I love this movie! Such a classic!



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    […] Jimmy Stewart: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) […]


  2. Jimmy Stewart: It’s a Wonderful Life | Did You See That One? - November 15, 2011

    […] one else when he cast the lead. The two had worked together on You Can’t Take it With You and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Like Mr. Smith this film would ask Stewart to push his dramatic acting skills to the limit while […]


  3. THE YEAR IN REVIEWS: 2011 | Did You See That One? - January 1, 2012



  4. Jimmy Stewart: Magic Town (1947) | Did You See That One? - July 11, 2012

    […] his career, Jimmy Stewart managed to play several characters named Smith. The characters include Jefferson Smith and Bill Smith. In 1947 he added in Rip Smith with the film Magic Town. This movie stars Stewart […]


  5. Shane | Did You See That One? - April 21, 2013

    […] taken from the novel of the same name written by Jack Schaefer. The film stars Jean Arthur (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), Oscar winner Van Heflin (Johnny Eager), Brandon De Wilde (Hud), Jack Palance (City Slickers), and […]


  6. Casablanca | Did You See That One? - June 16, 2013

    […] her mysterious Rick. The addition of Conrad Veidt (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) and Claude Rains (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) further built an impressive cast. Thanks to director Michael Curtiz (Yankee Doodle Dandy), the […]


  7. Jimmy Stewart: Cheyenne Autumn | Did You See That One? - July 5, 2014

    […] big names including Richard Widmark (Judgement at Nuremberg), Carroll Baker (Giant), Jimmy Stewart (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), and Edward G. Robinson (Double Indemnity). The cast also features Karl Malden (A Streetcar Named […]


  8. Lawrence of Arabia | Did You See That One? - October 12, 2014

    […] The list goes on with Anthony Quinn (Lust For Life), Jack Hawkins (Ben-Hur), Claude Rains (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), and Omar Sharif (Doctor […]


  9. Cleopatra | Did You See That One? - November 24, 2014

    […] director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve), Randall MacDougall (Mildred Pierce), Sidney Buchman (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), and Ben Hecht (His Girl Friday). Because of Mankiewicz’s late arrival to the project, much […]


  10. Jimmy Stewart: Carbine Williams | Did You See That One? - July 23, 2015

    […] II, Stewart portrayed a more flawed character. While he had established himself with films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, his post-war work proved that he was far more […]


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