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Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939, James Stewart, Claude Rains)



Despite labouring under the advertising tagline ‘Stirring – in the seeing! Precious – in the remembering!’ Frank Capra’s 1939 classic was originally intended to be a sequel to Mr Deeds Goes to Town, called Mr Deeds Goes to Washington. When Gary Cooper wasn’t available, however, the film had to be revised, with James Stewart being drafted in for the title role. The resultant movie, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, was one of Capra’s most heartfelt but also one of his most controversial. When the film was premiered in Washington, for example, senators walked out in disgust at the portrayal of corrupt politicians, the Senate leader labelling the film ‘silly and stupid’, noting that it ‘makes the Senate look like a bunch of crooks’. That, of course, was the point.

Stewart plays an archetypal Jimmy Stewart role – Jefferson Smith, the idealistic leader of the Boy Rangers in a western state. He’s chosen to go to Washington to succeed a senator who’s died suddenly, although his appointment is far from straightforward. A political boss, Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold), hopes to perpetrate a land swindle at a site called Willet Creek and has several senators in his pocket to ease his plans through – and one of these corrupt politicians, Joseph Paine (Claude Rains), is in fact Jefferson’s idol.

Jefferson’s secretary, Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur), initially thinks he’s a hick from the sticks with naïve values, but slowly starts to respect his earnest and honest views. Unable to support the way the young senator is being hoodwinked by his peers, Clarissa tells Jefferson that Paine and Taylor are manipulating him. But when he goes to confront them, they simply organise a smear campaign against him. He’s left with no alternative but to try and talk out their corrupt scheme by filibustering at Senate for almost 24 hours, non-stop.

Mr Smith Goes to Washington is memorable for moving performances by Stewart and Arthur (who’d previously worked together on You Can’t Take It With You), a suitably villainous performance by Claude Rains and Stewart’s hoarse play. Frank Capra later revealed that the actor’s throat was regularly dabbed with mercuric chloride to achieve the necessary effect during the film’s dramatic climax.

production details
USA | 129 minutes | 1939

Director: Frank Capra
Script: Sidney Buchman, Lewis R. Foster,

James Stewart as Jefferson Smith
Jean Arthur as Clarissa Saunders
Claude Rains as Sen. Joseph Harrison Paine
Edward Arnold as Jim Taylor
Guy Kibbee as Gov. Hubert ‘Happy’ Hopper
Eugene Pallette as Chick McGann
Beulah Bondi as Ma Smith
H.B. Warner as Senate Majority Leader
Astrid Allwyn as Susan Paine
Ruth Donnelly as Emma Hopper
Grant Mitchell as Sen. MacPherson
H.V. Kaltenborn as Himself, a Radio Broadcaster / Trailer Narrator
Pierre Watkin as Sen. Barnes
William Demarest as Bill Griffith
Billy Watson as Peter Hopper
Delmar Watson as Jimmie Hopper
Harry Watson as Hopper Boy
John Russell as Hopper Boy
Charles Lane as Nosey Newsman
Harry C. Bradley as Arthur Kim
Porter Hall as Sen. Monroe
Joe Palma as Hoodlum
Billy Wayne as Reporter
Gene Morgan as Reporter
Jack Low as Hoodlum
Dick Elliott as Carl Cook
Dave Willock as Senate Guard
Ann Doran as Paine’s Secretary (uncredited)
Mary Gordon as Woman (uncredited)
Robert Sterling as Senate Reporter (uncredited)
Erville Alderson as Handwriting Expert (uncredited)
Byron Foulger as Hopper’s Secretary (uncredited)
Matt McHugh as Reporter (uncredited)
Robert Emmett Keane as Editor (uncredited)
Stanley Andrews as Senator Hodges (uncredited)
Ben Taggart as Pompous Man (uncredited)
Dub Taylor as Reporter (uncredited)
Thomas Mitchell as Diz Moore
Walter Sande as Newspaperman with Pipe
Harry Carey as President of the Senate
Arthur Loft as Chief Clerk
Ed Randolph as Senate Reporter
James Millican as Senate Reporter
Harry Strang as Bodyguard
Joe Devlin as Waiter
Larry Simms as Hopper Boy (as Baby Dumpling)
Garry Watson as Hopper Boy (as Gary Watson)
Russell Simpson as Kenneth Allen (uncredited)
Frances Gifford as Hopper Girl (uncredited)
Colin James Mackey as Narrator (uncredited)
Wilson Benge as Hopper’s Butler (uncredited)
Dickie Jones as Pageboy Richard Jones (uncredited)
Frank Puglia as Handwriting Expert (uncredited)
Maurice Cass as Handwriting Expert (uncredited)
Al Bridge as Senator Dwight (uncredited)
Edwin August as Senator (uncredited)
Edmund Cobb as Senator Gower (uncredited)
Sam Ash as Senator Lancaster (uncredited)
Harry A. Bailey as Senator Hammett (uncredited)
Stanley Mack as Senator (uncredited)
Brooks Benedict as Senate Clerk (uncredited)
Wade Boteler as Family Man (uncredited)
Dorothy Comingore as Woman at Station (uncredited)
Chester Conklin as Man in Press Section of Senate Gallery (uncredited)
Gino Corrado as Barber (uncredited)
Kathryn Bates as Committeewoman (uncredited)
Frank Austin as Inventor at Smith’s Office Door (uncredited)
William Arnold as Reporter (uncredited)
Tommy Baker as Boy Ranger (uncredited)
George Chandler as Reporter (uncredited)
Fred ‘Snowflake’ Toones as Porter (uncredited)
Jack Carson as Sweeney Farrell a Newsman (uncredited)
Tommy Bupp as Boy Cheering for Smith in Meeting
Dora Clement as Mrs. McGann
Bert Moorhouse as Man in Senate Building (uncredited)
Lynton Brent as Photographer
Ed Brewer as Senate Reporter
Harlan Briggs as Mr. Edwards a Howling Citizen
Harry Burkhardt as Senate Reporter
Frederick Burton as Senator Dearhorn
Georgia Caine as Third Radio Speaker (uncredited)
Ken Carpenter as Announcer
Burr Caruth as Townsend
Allan Cavan as Ragner a Newsman
Eddy Chandler as Reporter
Davison Clark as Committeeman
Richard Clucas as Minor Role
Shirley Coates as Assistant Bartender
Eddie Coke as Photographer
Hal Cooke as Reporter
Alec Craig as Speaker
Anne Cornwall as Senate Reporter
George Cooper as Waiter (uncredited)
Georgie Cooper as Committeewoman
Jack Cooper as Photographer
Nick Copeland as Senate Reporter
Vernon Dent as Senate Reporter
Maurice Costello as Diggs a Newsman (uncredited)
Beatrice Curtis as Paine’s Secretary
Lew Davis as Senate Clerk
Dulcie Day as Senate Reporter
Wally Dean as Paine’s Friend
Harry Depp as Hat Salesman / Secretary
Helen Jerome Eddy as Paine’s Secretary (uncredited)
Douglas Evans as Francis Scott Key
Clyde Dilson as Reporter
John Dilson as Secretary
Neal Dodd as Senate Chaplain
Lester Dorr as Taylor’s Stooge
Robert Dudley as Reporter
Edward Earle as Reporter
Jack Egan as Reporter
Eddie Fetherston as Senate Reporter
Mabel Forrest as Senate Reporter
Gladys Gale as Committeewoman (uncredited)
Jack Gardner as Reporter
June Gittelson as Woman at Station
Lorna Gray as Woman at Station
Harry Hayden as First Radio Announcer (uncredited)
Louis Jean Heydt as Soapbox Speaker
John Ince as Senator Fernwick (uncredited)
Frank Jaquet as Senator Byron
Philo McCullough as Senator Albert
Wright Kramer as Senator Carlton
Henry Hebert as Senator
Fred Hoose as Senator
Richard Kipling as Senator
Roger Haliday as Senate Guard
Wilfred Hari as House Boy
Philip Hurlic as Boy Ranger
Olaf Hytten as Butler (uncredited)
Lloyd Ingraham as Committeeman (uncredited)
Mitchell Ingraham as Minor Role
Dick Jensen as Hoodlum
John Lester Johnson as Butler
Eddie Kane as Reporter
Donald Kerr as Reporter
Milton Kibbee as Senate Reporter (uncredited)
Joe King as Summers a Newsman
Evalyn Knapp as Reporter Asking ‘What Do You Think of the Girls in This Town?’
Paul Kruger as Bodyguard
Bobby Larson as Boy Ranger
Billy Lechner as Boy Ranger
Jackie Lowe as Boy Ranger
P.H. Levy as Rabbi
Vera Lewis as Mrs. Edwards (uncredited)
Jack Lindquist as Chorus Member
George Lloyd as Hoodlum
Jimmie Lucas as Photographer
Mary MacLaren as Head Sister
Hank Mann as Photographer (uncredited)
Margaret Mann as Nun with Cheering Orphan Boys
Eric Mayne as Man in Senate Building
Ralph McCullough as Assistant Bartender
George McKay as Reporter
Lafe McKee as Civil War Veteran at Lincoln Memorial
Field Norton as Pompous Man
Wilfred Lucas as Pompous Man
Sammy McKim as Boy Ranger
James McNamara as Reporter
William Newell as Reporter
Robert Middlemass as Second Radio Announcer
Howard M. Mitchell as Shoe Salesman
Charles R. Moore as Porter
Robert Morgan as Senate Clerk
Ray Nichols as Boy Ranger
Alex Novinsky as Foreign Diplomat
Frank O’Connor as Senator Alfred
Frank Otto as Fisk
Spencer Quinn as Minor Role
Tom Quinn as Senate Reporter
Charles Regan as Hoodlum
Jack Rice as Lang
Wyndham Standing as Senator Ashman
Ferris Taylor as Senator Carlisle
Jack Richardson as Senator Manchester
Walter Soderling as Senator Pickett
Harry Stafford as Senator Atwater
Victor Travers as Senator Grainger
Carl Stockdale as Senator Burdette
Robert Walker as Senator Holland
Henry Roquemore as Senator
Craig Stevens as Senate Reporter
Paul Stanton as Flood a Newsman
Johnny Russell as Otis Hopper
Frank M. Thomas as Hendricks
Harry Tenbrook as Bodyguard
Lloyd Whitlock as Schultz a Newsman
John Tyrrell as Undetermined Role
Frederick Vroom as Paine’s Friend (uncredited)
Charles Sullivan as Cab Driver
Arthur Thalasso as Doorman
Edward Thomas as Butler
Laura Treadwell as Mrs. Taylor
Layne Tom Jr. as Boy Ranger
Myonne Walsh as Jane Hopper
Max Waizmann as Photographer
John Ward as Photographer
Jane Loofbourrow as Committeewoman
Blanche Payson as Committeewoman
Emma Tansey as Committeewoman
Bess Wade as Committeewoman
Florence Wix as Committeewoman
Eleanor Wood as Committeewoman
Jesse Graves as Black Committeeman
Gus Glassmire as Angry Committee Member
Larry Steers as Committeeman
Landers Stevens as Committeeman
William Worthington as Committeeman
Edward Biby as Foreign Diplomat
Count Stefenelli as Foreign Diplomat
David Wade as Minor Role
Frank McLure as Senator (uncredited)
Victor Travis as Senator Grainger