Saturday, February 13, 2010

#48 Mr. Smith Goes To Washington - and innocence takes a stab in the heart

1939. dir. Frank Capra, starring James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains.

Seen it before? No.

I have been to DC a few times and the great thing about going is that the national monuments, the White House, and the Capitol Building haven't changed in a really long time. Going to see the Lincoln Memorial back in the thirties is essentially the same as going today except that people walk around these days in t-shirts and shorts instead of dresses and suits. In essence, you feel a great sense of pride that you don't get to feel in places where land is getting demolished and turned into strip malls or gas stations.

Way to go Frank Capra, Sidney Buchman and Lewis R. Foster for sharing a story that (sadly) still rings true today. There is corruption in the government, the people who are supposed to be representing the public are the puppets and the wealthy end up holding the strings. Something to think about...oh, and the shots of J. Smith and his hat (showing how nervous he was around Paine's daughter Susan) was so cute...

Speaking of cute, there's Jimmy Stewart as the naive and optimistic new senator who just wants to help get boys off the streets and thinking about the future of the planet. (I loved that the Governor's 8 children were the ones who conned him into nominating Jefferson Smith for the senator's job). Jimmy Stewart represents the teacher in all of us. We know that the children of today will be the leaders of tomorrow with a bit of guidance, caring and compassion. We know that people are entitled to their opinions but that we should stick up for the little guy. My favorite line from the movie is:
Jefferson Smith: You see, boys forget what their country means by just reading The Land of the Free in history books. Then they get to be men they forget even more. Liberty's too precious a thing to be buried in books, Miss Saunders. Men should hold it up in front of them every single day of their lives and say: I'm free to think and to speak. My ancestors couldn't, I can, and my children will. Boys ought to grow up remembering that.
It's not hard to see that children today have forgotten what liberty (and the rights that go along with it) means in its place they seem to value material objects and commercialized ideals...okay, so maybe they haven't forgotten liberty but are merely taking it for granted. Change the line to boys AND girls and we have something more appropriate for today...

Speaking of girls, how cool was it that there was a strong female character in this movie? I LOVED Jean Arthur and her character Clarissa Saunders. I loved that her reason for staying a secretary was to afford new suits - and that she kept on wanting to quit because she realized she could do something else to afford the new suits. I loved that she knew to tell J. Smith about the corruption going on with the creek he wanted his camp to be built around. I loved that she coached J. Smith into holding a filibuster. It speaks volumes about how bright her character was in terms of not being just a secretary but a political player. Even in black and white it wasn't hard to see the envy that came about when Susan called to conspire about taking J. Smith out on the town.

Would I see it again? Yes, and I would show it to my students too!
Would I own it? Heck yes!
Favorite character not mentioned above - The President of the Senate played by Harry Carey. He had a cute demeanor and an all-knowing look about him that made him so pleasant to watch.

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