MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON – FRANK CAPRA
Capra also used theatrical devices which keep the audience involved for more than iwo hours. Capra had a talent for humor which he developed while working as a gag writer for Mack Sennett and Harry Langdon. Jokes, however, are not funny unless they move, so Capra skillfully utilized montage and juxtaposition, while verbally augmenting the effect by forcing his actors to speak their lines twenty percent faster than was their natural inclination.
All these effects, however, add up to more than simply an enjoyable two hours. Capra is, perhaps above all, a social critic and a utopian idealist. As Mr. Smith’s first name, Jefferson, indicates, Capra is in a long line of Jeffersonian idealists. He believes in an agrarian society of self-sufficient individuals who discover the principles of democracy in the simple freedoms of rural life. Thus, in all Capra’s films it is the country “rube” who eventually embarrasses the forces of the Hamiltonian centralization of power such as Senator Paine and Boss Taylor.
Because Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was released just after the Nazi invasion of Poland, many powerful individuals in the industry and in politics felt the film’s images of social corruption might be misused by the Axis. The other Hollywood studios were so alarmed that they offered Columbia $2,000,000 to “can” the film. Senior Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy urged that the film not be released in Europe because it would “destroy . . . morale.” Luckily, at Capra’s insistence, the film was distributed and became, for the Allies, an image of the success of freedom over oppression. Thus, in occupied France one theater chose to show Mr. Smith Goes to Washington for thirty days straight before the film was barred by Nazi control.