MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON – FRANK CAPRA
Obviously, such a “corny” (or, as Capra called it, “Capra-corny”) plot line could not hold our attention without excellent acting, but the cast meets the challenge. Jimmy Stewart as Smith is warm, lovable, and believable; his innocence andidealism are humane, yet not maudlin. Further, Jean Arthur as his secretary Saunders shortcircuits what disbelief we might have in Smith’s childish character by expressing that disbelief for us and then transforming the doubts into infatuation. Against these two, Claude Rains as Senator Paine and Edward Arnold as Boss Taylor form the perfect counterpoint. Rains’s austere dignity and polished rhetorical style are perfect for the suspect political practitioner. Arnold’s active style and rotund figure also seem to fit perfectly his role, that of a businessman whose power borders on the Machiavellian. However, all this talent might have gone for naught if Capra had not knitted it together with the techniques of his craft.
Aside from his usual talent for balanced composition and natural lighting, Capra applied some special skills to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The use of the Washington background, and the Lincoln Memorial in particular, added much inherent interest in a Depression era of restricted travel. This innovation was matched by the perfect duplication of the Senate Floor at the Columbia Studios. To add to the realism of the filibuster sequence, Capra had Stewart’s throat painted three times a day with a substance that made him artificially hoarse and sore. Likewise in his choice of small part players, Capra gave each of them a personality which added to the fullness of the whole picture; one example is Guy Kibbee as the weak governor. Even in his rendition of legislative procedure Capra was extremely careful: James B. Preston, former superintendent of the Senate press gallery, acted as technical adviser.