Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Screening on Film
Directed by Frank Capra.
With Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Claude Rains.
US, 1939, 35mm, black & white, 125 min.

And here was I, in the process of making a satire about government officials; a comedy about a callow, hayseed Senator who comes to Washington carrying a crate of homing pigeons—to send messages back to Ma—and disrupts important Senate deliberations with a filibuster. The cancerous tumor of war was growing the body politic, but our reform-happy hero wanted to call the world’s attention to the pimple of graft on its nose. Wasn’t this the most untimely time for me to make a film about Washington? [....]

I left the Lincoln Memorial with this growing conviction about our film: The more uncertain are the people of the world, the more their hard-won freedoms are scattered and lost in the winds of chance, the more they need a ringing statement of America’s democratic ideals. The soul of our film would be anchored in Lincoln. Our Jefferson Smith would be a young Abe Lincoln, tailored to the rail-splitter’s simplicity, compassion, ideals, humor, and unswerving moral courage under pressure. And back we went to Hollywood to get to work on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The panic was over. It is never untimely to yank the rope of freedom’s bell.— FC

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