Director: Frank Capra
Stars: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains
Plot: Naive and idealistic Jefferson Smith, leader of the Boy Rangers, is appointed on a lark by the spineless governor of his state. He is reunited with the state's senior senator--presidential hopeful and childhood hero, Senator Joseph Paine. In Washington, however, Smith discovers many of the shortcomings of the political process as his earnest goal of a national boys' camp leads to a conflict with the state political boss, Jim Taylor. Taylor first tries to corrupt Smith and then later attempts to destroy Smith through a scandal.
Bitterly denounced by Washington insiders angry at its allegations of corruption, yet banned by fascist states in Europe who were afraid it showed that democracy works.
In 1942, when a ban on American films was imposed in German-occupied France, the title theaters chose Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) for their last movie before the ban went into effect. One Paris theater reportedly screened the film nonstop for 30 days prior to the ban.
In his autobiography, Frank Capra states that after the film's general release, he and Harry Cohn received a cablegram from U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain Joseph P. Kennedy saying that he felt the film would damage "America's prestige in Europe" and should therefore be withdrawn from European distribution. In response, they mailed favorable reviews of the film to Kennedy, which persuaded him not pursue the matter any further, even though he still maintained his doubts.
According to the New York Times, "the Boy Scouts of America objected to having any part in Mr. Capra's reform movement," and Frank Capra therefore had to use the fictitious name of the Boy Rangers.
Jean Arthur's left side was considered her best side, so the sets had to be constructed in a way that whenever she entered, she would be photographed on that side.
The Washington press corps was highly indignant at the way it was portrayed in the film. Consequently, a great deal of the initial reviews from the capitol were very negative. One of their chief objections was that the film made them all out to be drinking too much.
Frank Capra received many letters over the years from individuals who were inspired by the film to take up politics.
Jean Arthur did not get along with James Stewart during filming, possibly because she had wanted her Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) co-star Gary Cooper to be cast as Mr. Smith. Arthur thought Stewart was being deliberately a bit too cute for his own good and that Cooper was more masculine and had a stronger screen presence.
Frank Capra and his crew went to Washington, DC, to film background material and to study the Senate chamber, which was replicated, full scale, in precise detail on the Columbia lot. James D. Preston, who was Capra's technical advisor for the Senate set and political protocol, was a former superintendent of the Senate press gallery.
The state that Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) and Sen. Joseph Harrison Paine (Claude Rains) come from is never mentioned.
The character of Harrison Paine was reportedly based on the then junior senator from Missouri, Harry S. Truman, then known as "the senator from Pendergast," for the political machine which backed his early career in politics.
Originally the ending was much, much longer. It included scenes such as Mr. Smith going back to his home state and given a parade (with Saunders); the Taylor machine being crushed; Smith on a motorcycle and stopping to see Sen. Paine; forgiving him and everyone going to see Smith's mother. It was cut after a preview audience's response. Some of the footage can be seen in the theatrical trailer.
During Smith's filibuster, he mostly sticks to improvisation and reading from historical documents (The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, etc). However, during one scene (immediately following the montage of the dueling newspapers), he reads from the King James Bible, specifically the "love passage" in 1 Corinthians 13.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is based on an unpublished story, variously titled 'The Gentleman from Montana' or 'The Gentleman from Wyoming' by American screenwriter Lewis R. Foster. The story was adapted for the screenplay by American screenwriters Sidney Buchman and Myles Connolly.