I know it’s a bit of an oldie, but just recently I made the pleasant discovery of a little movie called Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. You’re probably wondering how I never managed to see this magnificent film before, and honestly, I have no idea. I’m mildly surprised I’ve lived this long without watching it, too. For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, all I can say is, look it up as soon as possible; it is one of the greatest movies ever made.

Directed by Frank Capra, the 1939 film starring James Stewart and Jean Arthur follows the story of a young man, enthusiastic about his country, patriotic to the core, and more importantly, willing to stand up against injustice. By chance as it were, Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) is chosen for senator as a replacement for the recently deceased Sam Foley. He is elected chiefly because Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) and Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) think he’ll make a good follower. Jefferson Smith is taken to Washington under the guidance of Senator Paine, who turns out to be an old friend of Smith’s deceased father.

At first, Smith is in awe of his new circumstances and of Washington, but he wants to learn about politics and do something during his time as senator. To keep him from coming too close to a dam-building graft scheme that Paine and Taylor have been working on for years, Paine suggests the young man write up a bill. Smith takes his advice and proposes a national boys’ camp in his state, but incidentally, it’s supposed to go up on the same site which the Jim Taylor machine, supported by Senator Paine, selected for the dam in the appropriations bill.

Taylor speaks to Smith, offering him just about any job or career the young man could desire, but Smith is determined to speak out against the graft. A battle ensues, with Taylor and his followers casting doubts upon Smith’s reasons for starting a boys’ camp. Smith’s secretary, Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur), helps Smith launch a filibuster to delay the appropriations bill and give him time to prove his innocence.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is one of the most incredible movies I’ve seen in a long while, and is a reminder of all the good that still fights its way through the world of bad out there. An inspiring film about one man’s effect on American politics, it really outlines the importance of standing up for what’s right—as Smith says in the film, the “lost causes” of our time are “the only ones worth fighting for.”


Courtney McCullough
Author and Proofreader