'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington': The Classic at a Glance
Based on the story "The Gentleman From Montana" by Lewis R. Foster
Three-time Academy Award winner Frank Capra
The Stars and the Story:
Jimmy Stewart plays the naive, newly appointed Sen. Jefferson Smith, whose chief qualification for public office has been serving as the leader of a group of cub explorers called the Boy Rangers. Smith is chosen for the job by a weak-willed governor, Hubert "Happy" Hopper (played by Guy Kibbee).
Jean Arthur plays Smith's cynical secretary, Clarissa Saunders, who finds herself falling in love with her boss and then helping him mount a dramatic filibuster on the floor of the Senate. Media magnate Jim Taylor (played by Edward Arnold) is scheming with craven senior senator Joseph Paine (played by Claude Rains) to help get federal funding for a dam that will enrich Taylor.
Academy Award Nominations:
Eleven, including Best Picture, best director and best actor. The film wins just one award, for best original story.
- "Look, when I came here, my eyes were big blue question marks," says Clarissa Saunders, recounting how Washington has changed her. "Now they're big green dollar marks."
- "I've got a piece to speak, and blow hot or cold, I'm going to speak it," Smith declares. And: "You think I'm licked. You all think I'm licked. Well, I'm not licked."
- "This is a man's world, Jeff, and you gotta check your ideals outside the door like you do your rubbers," Paine tells Smith.
- Jefferson Smith was supposed to be a Boy Scout leader. But when the Boy Scouts of America got wind of this, they protested to Capra. As a result, Capra was forced to scrap several days of filming.
- While the filibuster was being filmed, Stewart's throat was swabbed with mercuric chloride to make him sound hoarse.
- Parts of the $100,000 Senate chamber set would later be used in the 1962 movie "Advise & Consent." In 2004, one of the desks from the set was purchased on eBay by the U.S. Capitol Historical Society and donated to the Senate, but has been relegated to storage while officials try to figure out what to do with it.
- After being ambushed and embarrassed by a swarm of Washington reporters and photographers, Smith marches into the press club and brawls with the newsmen.
- Humiliated by the lies being spread about him to discredit a bill he's pushing, and facing expulsion, Smith undergoes a dark night of the soul and visits the Lincoln Memorial, where he finds the courage to fight back.
- For 23 hours, Smith filibusters his fellow senators, who come and go in relays to retain a quorum in an attempt to exhaust him. Undaunted, he reads from the country's founding documents and announces, famously, that the only cause worth fighting for is a lost one. Finally, a drained Smith faints to the floor.
- When Paine's efforts to ruin Smith are thwarted by the Boy Rangers, Paine tries to commit suicide, fails and confesses his treachery.