(“New To Me” is a column wherein your intrepid reviewer watches the classics — both mainstream and cult — in an effort to fill in the holes in his pop culture literacy and avoid the garbage that generally defines modern cinema. Related thoughts below. See other entries here.)
Movies like this make it hard to be a cynical jackass. I mean it’s just so earnest and wholesome that it feels like peeing on a puppy to even suggest that it is in some way lacking. But this is the 2010s where even our terms of endearment are probably too harsh for the virgin ears of moviegoers in the 1930s. Fact is, classic or not, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington would be a Hallmark TV movie if it was made today.
The plot goes like this: a Senator dies, and his corrupt colleagues choose a naïve successor who won’t make a fuss when they try to pass a bill allowing them to build an evil dam (cue menacing laughter). Their nefarious plan backfires though when their choice turns out to be the star of the picture, Jimmy Stewart, and he’s far too much of a good guy (he’s literally a Boy Scout — actually the head of some Boy Scout-like organization, but still) to allow such shenanigans to take place without a protest. I mean, his name is Jefferson Smith, only the most American sounding name since Commander Stars N. Stripes McEaglepants, a name I just made up. After a patriotic montage that looks like it was paid for by the D.C. tourism board, our boy Jimmy stages an epic filibuster to block the legislation, and eventually, his top-billing, sweaty brow and inspiring idealism convinces the evildoers to see the error of their ways. The end.
Don’t get me wrong — it’s a nice movie. Jimmy Stewart is perfect as the innocent everyman, the bad guys, anchored by the original Invisible Man Claude Rains, are appropriately dastardly, and Jimmy’s co-star, Jean Arthur, is genuinely funny (and not in that funny-for-the-time sort of way you see in most old movies). But the whole thing seems like a product of a stupider time where people actually believed that the government was based on ideals and had our best interests at heart. These days we know better. We pretty much assume politicians are screwing us, we just hope the person we vote for will screw us they way we like it. Or at least give us a reach around. Of course, the 1930s were a time when married couples slept in different beds and wore suits and dresses to the dinner table (or so I imagine from the moving pictures and what not), so I guess double-crossing politicians were probably as foreign as a dirty sanchez to them. (I really have no idea where I’m going with these awful analogies. Let’s move on.)
Look, the bottom line is this: warm and fuzzy makes me nauseous, and the only thing I hate more than a happy person is an idealistic, happy person. In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington world, I suspect there are a lot of idealistic, happy people, and it makes me want to stab them in their idealistic, happy faces.
Don’t judge me — it’s what our founding fathers would have wanted.
DYL MAG Score: 6 or 7 (depending on how stabby I feel that day)