Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Critics Consensus

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington -- and returns with an uplifting ode to idealism that distills the strengths of its director and leading man.

95%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 40

94%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 45,796
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Movie Info

Frank Capra's classic comedy-drama established James Stewart as a lead actor in one of his finest (and most archetypal) roles. The film opens as a succession of reporters shout into telephones announcing the death of Senator Samuel Foley. Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains), the state's senior senator, puts in a call to Governor Hubert "Happy" Hopper (Guy Kibbee) reporting the news. Hopper then calls powerful media magnate Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold), who controls the state -- along with the lawmakers. Taylor orders Hopper to appoint an interim senator to fill out Foley's term; Taylor has proposed a pork barrel bill to finance an unneeded dam at Willet Creek, so he warns Hopper he wants a senator who "can't ask any questions or talk out of turn." After having a number of his appointees rejected, at the suggestion of his children Hopper nominates local hero Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), leader of the state's Boy Rangers group. Smith is an innocent, wide-eyed idealist who quotes Jefferson and Lincoln and idolizes Paine, who had known his crusading editor father. In Washington, after a humiliating introduction to the press corps, Smith threatens to resign, but Paine encourages him to stay and work on a bill for a national boy's camp. With the help of his cynical secretary Clarissa Sanders (Jean Arthur), Smith prepares to introduce his boy's camp bill to the Senate. But when he proposes to build the camp on the Willets Creek site, Taylor and Paine force him to drop the measure. Smith discovers Taylor and Paine want the Willets Creek site for graft and he attempts to expose them, but Paine deflects Smith's charges by accusing Smith of stealing money from the boy rangers. Defeated, Smith is ready to depart Washington, but Saunders, whose patriotic zeal has been renewed by Smith, exhorts him to stay and fight. Smith returns to the Senate chamber and, while Taylor musters the media forces in his state to destroy him, Smith engages in a climactic filibuster to speak his piece: "I've got a few things I want to say to this body. I tried to say them once before and I got stopped colder than a mackerel. Well, I'd like to get them said this time, sir. And as a matter of fact, I'm not gonna leave this body until I do get them said." ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi

Cast

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. Hopper
Thomas Mitchell
as Diz Moore
Harry Carey
as Senate President
Beulah Bondi
as Ma Smith
Astrid Allwyn
as Susan Paine
Ruth Donnelly
as Mrs. Emma Hopper
Grant Mitchell
as Sen. MacPherson
Porter Hall
as Sen. Monroe
Pierre Watkin
as Sen. Barnes
Dick Elliott
as Bill Griffith
H.B. Warner
as Majority Leader
H.V. Kaltenborn
as Broadcaster
Johnny Russell
as Larry Simms
Ken Carpenter
as Announcer
Jack Carson
as Sweeney
Baby Dumpling
as Hopper Boy
Harry A. Bailey
as Senator Hammett
Fred Hoose
as Senator
Joe King
as Summers
Stanley Andrews
as Sen. Hodges
Walter Soderling
as Sen. Pickett
Frank Jaquet
as Sen. Byron
Ferris Taylor
as Sen. Carlisle
Carl Stockdale
as Sen. Burdette
Alan Bridge
as Sen. Dwight
Edmund Cobb
as Sen. Gower
Frederick Burton
as Sen. Dearhorn
Vera Lewis
as Mrs. Edwards
Dora Clement
as Mrs. McGann
Erville Alderson
as Handwriting expert
Laura Treadwell
as Mrs. Taylor
Eddie Fetherstone
as Senate reporter
Ann Doran
as Paine's Secretary
Douglas Evans
as Francis Scott Key
Sam Ash
as Senator Lancaster
Frank Austin
as Inventor
Wade Boteler
as Family man
Myonne Walsh
as Jane Hopper
Byron Foulger
as Hopper's Secretary
Al Bridge
as Sen. Dwight
Billy Watson
as Peter Hopper
Delmar Watson
as Jimmie Hopper
Maurice Cass
as Handwriting expert
John Russell
as Otis Hopper
Harry Watson
as Hopper Boy
Garry Watson
as Hopper Boy
John Ince
as Senator Fernwick
Larry Simms
as Hopper Boy
Clyde Dilson
as Reporter
Jack Cooper
as Photographer
Evalyn Knapp
as Reporter Asking 'What Do You Think of the Girls in This Town
Dub Taylor
as Reporter
Jack Gardner
as Reporter
Alec Craig
as Speaker
Donald Kerr
as Reporter
Eddie Kane
as Reporter
Beatrice Curtis
as Paine's secretary
Robert Walker
as Senator Holland
George McKay
as Reporter
Gene Morgan
as Reporter
Victor Travers
as Senator Grainger
Matt McHugh
as Reporter
Rev. Neal Dodd
as Senate chaplain
William Arnold
as Senate Reporter
Hal Cooke
as Senate Reporter
Helen Jerome Eddy
as Paine's secretary
Jack Egan
as Senate Reporter
Eddy Chandler
as Senate Reporter
Eddie Fetherston
as Senate Reporter
Ed Randolph
as Senate reporter
Vernon Dent
as Senate reporter
Harry Hayden
as Speaker
Louis Jean Heydt
as Soapbox speaker
Craig Stevens
as Senate Reporter
Ed Brewer
as Senate Reporter
Lloyd Ingraham
as Committeeman
Anne Cornwall
as Senate reporter
James Millican
as Senate reporter
Mabel Forrest
as Senate reporter
Dick Jones
as Page boy
Nick Copeland
as Senate reporter
Dulce Daye
as Senate Reporter
Milton Kibbee
as Senate Reporter
Frances Gifford
as Hopper Girl
Wyndham Standing
as Senator Ashman
Wright Kramer
as Senator Carlton
Dorothy Comingore
as Woman at Station
Arthur Loft
as Chief clerk
June Gittelson
as Woman at Station
Hank Mann
as Photographer
Philo McCullough
as Senator Albert
Dave Willock
as Senate guard
Florence Wix
as Committeewoman (uncredited)
Harlan Briggs
as Mr. Edwards- Howling Citizen (uncredited)
Lafe [Lafayette] McKee
as Civil War veteran
Count Stefanelli
as Foreign Diplomat (uncredited)
Evelyn Knapp
as Reporter
Alex Novinsky
as Foreign diplomat
Frank O'Connor
as Senator Alfred
Frank Puglia
as Handwriting expert
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News & Interviews for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Critic Reviews for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

All Critics (40) | Top Critics (5) | Fresh (38) | Rotten (2)

  • This is classic Capracorn.

    Aug 29, 2012 | Full Review…
  • Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is going to be the big movie explosion of the year, and reviewers are going to think twice and think sourly before they'll want to put it down for the clumsy and irritating thing it is.

    Feb 15, 2011 | Full Review…
  • One of the finest and consistently interesting dramas of the season.

    Mar 26, 2009 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • Quintessential Capra - popular wish-fulfilment served up with such fast-talking comic panache that you don't have time to question its cornball idealism.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Derek Adams

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Mr. Smith is one of the best shows of the year. More fun, even, than the Senate itself.

    May 20, 2003 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • Stewart's performance of Jefferson Smith, a hero trying to keep his head above the corrupt crowd, is outstanding; and the ideology of truth winning out takes on new dimensions in this post-Watergate era.

    Nov 18, 2019 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

  • Sep 01, 2016
    Few films succeed in being relevant a decade or two after its release, but Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is still relevant 77 years later, especially in a voting year with questionable candidates. Before Frank Capra ventured into his war propaganda films in the early-to-mid 40's, he made some of the most important and acclaimed films of all time. In back to back years he directed the 1938 sleeper hit, You Can't Take it With You, and the classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Capra carried some of the same cast members over to the ladder, as Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur, and Edward Arnold are among the many who acted in both films. Continuing with the tradition of Capra's other works, Mr. Smith deals with a common man taking on big ideas and ideals, only to be shut down by those more powerful and privileged. This was the film that really showed the world what Stewart could do. Even though I have seen tons of his films, this one stands out as some of his finest acting and most demanding roles of his filmography. He was always great at playing an everyman and someone you can undeniably root for, and Jeff Smith is a defining role for him. Smith represents the audience in going along for this political ride and I loved the way Stewart gave the character a certain amount of innocence and vulnerability while also displaying a graceful and powerful presence as well. Having wonderful chemistry in You Can't Take it With You, it's no surprise that Stewart and Arthur's work together here is just as good, if not better. Arthur plays Clarissa Saunders, who manages to keep Smith afloat even though he's constantly swept away by Washington and all of the extra perks for being in the Senate. It's also not a forced romance, like a lot of 30's films, it takes a while for it to be developed as its handled with care. Arthur may very well be the best romantic partner Stewart ever had. 1939 was a fantastic year for film, with Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind also being released. But perhaps no film from that year is still as relevant as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Capra covers the film with patriotism with beautiful shots of Washington D.C. and a patriotic song here or there, but its his step into a pessimistic style of filmmaking that's most intriguing here. The last 30 minutes with Stewart giving an Oscar worthy performance and Capra seamlessly twisting the story into unpredictable territories is truly something special. +Stewart becoming the Stewart we all love +Arthur is marvelous +Capra's balanced directing 10/10
    Thomas D Super Reviewer
  • Jan 22, 2016
    Idealistic fantasy meets cynical reality. An endearing film which some actually true-to-life (though, perhaps, a tad simplistic to be sure) points to make about the dark, bleak underbelly of corruption in politics, and how greed and cynicism can infect and corrupt even the most idealistic hearts, until they no longer recognize their earlier glory. One idealistic man refuses to be corrupted, tries to shake the bee's nest, and faces the staggering powers that be. A classic. Definitely in the 4-4.5 range. Giving it the 4.5.
    Kyle M Super Reviewer
  • Mar 20, 2015
    One of the best movies you will ever see, hands down. This is a classic.
    Stephen S Super Reviewer
  • Jan 09, 2014
    Capra and Jimmy Stewart team up again to give us the original ordinary man vs. the political machine film that has been copies oodles and oodles of times since. Mimicry is a form of flattery and this film is good and could be plopped into today's theatres and be entirely relevant.
    John B Super Reviewer

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