Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”
In Frank Capra’s 1939 people’s fable “Mr. Smith goes to Washington “Jefferson Smith, a young, idealistic, and naïve hero from a Midwestern state is thrust into public notoriety through a chance course of events. His journey will compel him to contemplate the veracity of the political foundation which supports American democracy and confront the corruption which seeks to erode it.
Smith, leader of the Boy Rangers, an organization closely based on the Boy Scouts of America, becomes a state hero after “single-handedly” putting out a forest fire. Like a fabled hero, his statewide popularity burgeons, particularly amongst his state’s youth. When an unexpected political death necessitates the imminent selection of a successor for the position of Senator, Jefferson Smith becomes the unlikely choice. A greenhorn politician, Jeff Smith isn’t chosen for his political achievements, idealism or unwavering morality; he’s chosen because he’s a political neophyte. The governor and Smith’s new colleague, Sen. Joseph Paine, both unscrupulously controlled by Jim Taylor, a corrupt industrialist who runs the state’s news papers and commerce, believe Smith will be easily manipulated and a nonentity in their tainted plans.
Of central interest to the “Taylor machine” is the Willet Dam Project, a bill which masquerades as a means by which to promote local agricultural interests but in reality only seeks to generate illicit funds for Mr. Taylor and his conspirators, who have deceitfully bought all bordering land. Unaware of Paine’s and Taylor’ scheme , Smith valiantly proposes a bill for a national boys’ camp, which coincidentally would be constructed on land designated for the Willet Dam Project. In so doing, Smith stumbles into the movie’s central struggle. While directly Capra’s film powerfully illustrates Smith’s own intense confrontation with a seemingly omnipotent political machine; his ultimate victory is a condemnation of all industrial greed as well as a reaffirmation...