(Air Date: Week Of 2/7/96)
Let me go on record as saying the following: I am disgusted with the state of American politics today. I mean, when was the last time we all actually had someone to vote for instead of vote against? As we are once again entering into that special time when certain selected individuals choose to torment us with their twisted views on what we are supposed to care about, I invariably choose to do what I always do at election time. I pop in my copy of director Frank Capra's classic from 1939, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington".
Jimmy Stewart has always been the consummate movie actor to me, and his performance in this movie would have been the role of his life if he hadn't made so many terrific movies in later years. He stars as Jefferson Smith, an idealistic young leader of the Boy Rangers who is appointed to a senate seat after the previous occupant dies one day. He's chosen for the job because he's considered to be a non-threatening fellow who'll fall into line behind the well respected senior senator from his home state, Joseph Paine, played by the always smooth Claude Rains.
Jeff begins to discover that corruption runs rampant in his state, and that his idol, Senator Paine, is actually a stooge for the nasty and powerful Taylor, played menacingly by Edward Arnold. As the film progresses, Jeff gets in the way of the machine, the machine tries to grind him up, and Jeff fights back in the only way he can. With a fillibuster.
The entire last fifteen minutes of the movie chronicle this fillibuster, and the result is one of the most emotionally powerful sequences in the history of the movies. Stewart is amazing in the last part of the film, summing up all the hopes and dreams and concerns of all Americans as he fights against the corruption that threatens to destroy the way of life he loves.
Yes, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is a little hokey at times. Yes, it's a hopeless dream to wish that a real life American politician would have the stones to actually tell it like it is. But isn't that what the movies are supposed to be all about? Maybe if we all close our eyes and wish real hard, Jefferson Smith will pop up and save us! Yeah, right.
Copyright 1996 John A. Lavin
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