Nominated for eleven Academy Awards but having the misfortune of being released in the same year as Gone with the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a political comedy-drama that stands the test of time. Though produced and set in 1939, the film feels as fresh and relevant as the day of its release and contains the breakthrough performance of one of Hollywood’s greats, James Stewart. Stewart plays Jefferson Smith, the head of the Boy Rangers, local newspaper owner and all around good guy. When one of his state’s Senators unexpectedly dies, the local political machine looks for a replacement that will be popular with the people but keep his nose out of their shady political dealings. After much deliberation it’s decided that Smith is their man and he heads off to Washington, wide eyed and wet behind the ears.
Although this is very much Jimmy Stewart’s film, he was given second billing to co-star Jean Arthur. Arthur was already a star by 1939 whereas Stewart was very much on his way up, on the back of strong supporting roles in the likes of Navy Blue and Gold and You Can’t Take It With You, which as with Mr. Smith was directed by Frank Capra. Stewart launches himself with this role though and despite his long and successful career, this is remains one of his defining performances.