Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

125-126 or 130 mins | Comedy-drama | 19 October 1939

Director:

Frank Capra

Writer:

Sidney Buchman

Producer:

Frank Capra

Cinematographer:

Joseph Walker

Production Designer:

Lionel Banks

Production Company:

Columbia Pictures Corp.
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HISTORY

According to HR news items, "The Gentleman from Montana" (an unpublished story by Lewis R. Foster, alternately called "The Gentleman from Wyoming" by both contemporary and modern sources) was originally purchased by Columbia as a vehicle for Ralph Bellamy, with Harold Wilson slated to produce. Once Frank Capra became the director, the project, planned as a sequel to Mr. Deeds Goes to Town , was entitled Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington , and was to star Gary Cooper, reprising his role as Deeds. Cooper was unavailable for the role, however, and James Stewart was borrowed from M-G-M.
       Information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicates that in Jan 1938, both Paramount and M-G-M submitted copies of Lewis' story to the PCA for approval. Responding to a Paramount official, PCA Director Joseph I. Breen cautioned: "we would urge most earnestly that you take serious counsel before embarking on the production of any motion picture based on this story. It looks to us like one that might well be loaded with dynamite, both for the motion picture industry, and for the country at large." Breen especially objected to "the generally unflattering portrayal of our system of Government, which might well lead to such a picture being considered, both here, and more particularly abroad, as a covert attack on the Democratic form of government." A Jun 1938 internal PCA memo indicates that Rouben Mamoulian was interested in directing the film for Columbia. No other information about the involvement of Paramount, M-G-M or Mamoulian has been found. Breen warned Columbia that the picture needed to emphasize that "the Senate is made ... More Less

According to HR news items, "The Gentleman from Montana" (an unpublished story by Lewis R. Foster, alternately called "The Gentleman from Wyoming" by both contemporary and modern sources) was originally purchased by Columbia as a vehicle for Ralph Bellamy, with Harold Wilson slated to produce. Once Frank Capra became the director, the project, planned as a sequel to Mr. Deeds Goes to Town , was entitled Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington , and was to star Gary Cooper, reprising his role as Deeds. Cooper was unavailable for the role, however, and James Stewart was borrowed from M-G-M.
       Information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicates that in Jan 1938, both Paramount and M-G-M submitted copies of Lewis' story to the PCA for approval. Responding to a Paramount official, PCA Director Joseph I. Breen cautioned: "we would urge most earnestly that you take serious counsel before embarking on the production of any motion picture based on this story. It looks to us like one that might well be loaded with dynamite, both for the motion picture industry, and for the country at large." Breen especially objected to "the generally unflattering portrayal of our system of Government, which might well lead to such a picture being considered, both here, and more particularly abroad, as a covert attack on the Democratic form of government." A Jun 1938 internal PCA memo indicates that Rouben Mamoulian was interested in directing the film for Columbia. No other information about the involvement of Paramount, M-G-M or Mamoulian has been found. Breen warned Columbia that the picture needed to emphasize that "the Senate is made up of a group of fine, upstanding citizens, who labor long and tirelessly for the best interests of the nation," as opposed to "Senator Joseph Paine" and his cohorts. After the script had been rewritten, Breen wrote a letter to Will H. Hays in which he stated: "It is a grand yarn that will do a great deal of good for all those who see it and, in my judgment, it is particularly fortunate that this kind of story is to be made at this time. Out of all Senator Jeff's difficulties there has been evolved the importance of a democracy and there is splendidly emphasized the rich and glorious heritage which is ours and which comes when you have a government 'of the people, by the people, and for the people.'"
       According to contemporary sources, Capra and his crew went to Washington, D.C. 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. A 1 Jul 1939 HR news item noted that the Warner Bros. "New York Street set" was used, during which 1,000 extras were present. The film's program describes a slightly different ending than that viewed, in which "Jefferson Smith" and "Saunders" return to his hometown after the filibuster and are cheered in a big parade. It is implied that "Jeff" and "Saunders" are married and are either starting a family or are planning to. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington won an Academy Award for Best Original Story, and was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Harry Carey and Claude Rains), Art Direction, Music, Editing and Sound. Stewart, who was nominated for Best Actor, won the New York Film Critics' Circle Award for best actor. The film was also among NYT and FD 's best films of 1939.
       There is controversy surrounding the reception of the film at its Washington, D.C. premiere, which was sponsored by the National Press Club. While contemporary sources do not specifically state that some senators walked out during the screening, as Capra asserts in his autobiography, some sources note that there was a highly negative reaction to the film, both on the part of Congress and the Washington press. The senatorial attack on the film was lead by Senate Majority Leader Alben W. Barkley, who called it "silly and stupid," and said it "makes the Senate look like a bunch of crooks." Some contemporary sources stated that some senators pressed for passage of the Neely Anti-Block Booking Bill (which in the late 1940s led to the breakup of the studio-owned theater chains) in retaliation for the damage they felt Hollywood had inflicted upon the Senate's reputation. In reply, Columbia released a special program containing favorable reviews that stressed the film's patriotism and support of democracy.
       In his autobiography, Capra states that after the film's general release, he and Harry Cohn received a cablegram from Joseph P. Kennedy, the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, saying that 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, and, while in a letter to Capra, Kennedy stated that he maintained doubts about the film, he did not pursue the matter any further. According to NYT , "the Boy Scouts of America objected to having any part in Mr. Capra's reform movement," and Capra therefore had to use the fictitious name of the Boy Rangers. In later interviews, Capra and Stewart both revealed that in order for Stewart to achieve the required hoarseness during the filibuster scenes, his throat was periodically swabbed with mercuric chloride. In his autobiography, Capra says that he originally offered the role of the President of the Senate to Edward Ellis, who turned it down. Capra credits Joseph Sistrom, Harold Winston and Chester Sticht with showing him the synopsis of "The Gentleman from Montana," and also with assisting in casting the 186 speaking parts in the film.
       In 1941, Columbia was sued by Louis Ullman and Norman Houston, both of whom claimed that Mr. Smith was plagiarized from their respective written works. Lewis Foster testified that he wrote the story specifically for Gary Cooper, and Capra testified that he had seen only the synopsis of Foster's story and had intended to use it as a sequel to Mr. Deeds Goes to Town . Columbia won the case. In 1953, screenwriter Sidney Buchman was fined $150 and received a one-year suspended sentence after he was convicted of contempt of Congress when he failed to honor a subpoena to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. In 1960, Buchman stated that he was blacklisted after this incident. There was an ABC television series during the 1962-63 season based on the film, starring Fess Parker. In 1977, United Artists released a remake of the film, entitled Billy Jack Goes to Washington , directed by and starring Tom Laughlin and produced by Frank Capra, Jr. According to HR news items, in 1949 Columbia intended but never did produce Bill Bowers' sequel, Mr. Smith Starts a Riot , and in 1952 Columbia considered a remake of the original film starring Jane Wyman in Stewart's role. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was ranked 26th on AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving up from the 29th position it held on AFI's 1997 list. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
14-Oct-39
---
Daily Variety
4 Oct 39
p. 3
Daily Variety
17 Mar 53
p. 1, 9
Film Daily
6 Oct 39
p. 8.
Hollywood Citizen-News
4-Jun-41
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Feb 38
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Aug 38
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Oct 38
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jan 39
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Feb 39
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Mar 39
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Apr 39
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Apr 39
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Apr 39
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jun 39
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jul 39
p. 2, 7
Hollywood Reporter
8 Sep 39
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Oct 39
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Oct 39
p. 1, 10
Los Angeles Examiner
2-Dec-49
---
Los Angeles Examiner
5-Jun-52
---
Los Angeles Herald Express
6 Jun 41
Sect. B, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
22-Oct-39
---
Motion Picture Daily
5 Oct 39
pp. 1-3.
Motion Picture Herald
7 Oct 39
p. 35, 38
Motion Picture Herald
28 Oct 39
p. 13.
New York Times
14-May-39
---
New York Times
15-Oct-39
---
New York Times
20 Oct 39
p. 27.
New York Times
24-Oct-39
---
New York Times
5-Nov-44
---
New York Times
12-May-60
---
Variety
11 Oct 39
p. 13.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Joe King
Dora Clement
Dick Fiske
Frederick Hoose
Harry Bradley
Rev. Neal Dodd
Joe Palma
Snowflake
Lorna Gray
Linda Winters
Isabelle La Mal
J. C. Fowler
Tom Curran
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Dial dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Contr to scr const and dial
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Asst cam
1st operative cam
2nd operative cam
2nd asst cam
Spec portrait art
Prod stills
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set des
Set dresser
COSTUMES
Gowns
Head of women's and men's ward
Women's ward
MUSIC
Mus dir
Mus score
SOUND
Sd eng
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Mont eff
Mont eff
MAKEUP
Hair
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
Master of prop
Head elec
Asst elec
Prod asst
2nd asst dir
2nd asst dir
DETAILS
Release Date:
19 October 1939
Premiere Information:
Washington, D.C. premiere: 17 October 1939
Production Date:
3 April--7 July 1939
Copyright Claimant:
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Copyright Date:
10 October 1939
Copyright Number:
LP9164
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
125-126 or 130
Length(in feet):
11,868
Length(in reels):
13
Country:
United States
PCA No:
5370
SYNOPSIS

The untimely death of Senator Foley presents problems for political boss Jim Taylor, who needed the senator's help to perpetrate a land swindle at Willet Creek. Taylor orders Governor Hubert Hopper, whom he controls, to appoint a yes man, but citizen committees want someone else. Hopper is also besieged by his sons, who ask him to appoint Jefferson Smith, the patriotic leader of the Boy Rangers. Confused, Hopper appoints Jeff, then convinces Taylor that naïve Jeff cannot learn enough about politics in time to affect the crooked bill. Jeff's appointment as junior senator is also supported by the senior senator, Joseph Paine, who is both Taylor's stooge and Jeff's idol. Jeff and Paine go to Washington, where Jeff, overwhelmed by his first sight of the Capitol dome, leaves the group and boards a tour bus. Five hours later, he reaches his office, where his cynical secretary, Clarissa Saunders, is waiting for him with her chum, newspaperman Diz Moore. They think Jeff's patriotic spirit is hokum, and Saunders engineers a disasterous press conference for Jeff. The next morning, Paine takes Jeff to be sworn in at the Senate, where one senator objects, alleging that the newspaper stories prove Jeff is unfit. Paine defends Jeff, and after he is sworn in, enraged Jeff goes on a rampage, slugging the reporters, who label him an "honorary stooge." The truth of it stings Jeff, and after seeking advice from Paine, who tells him to sponsor a bill proposing a national Boy Rangers camp, Jeff and Saunders stay up all night working on the bill, which Jeff presents in the Senate the next morning. Despite Jeff's nervousness, ... +


The untimely death of Senator Foley presents problems for political boss Jim Taylor, who needed the senator's help to perpetrate a land swindle at Willet Creek. Taylor orders Governor Hubert Hopper, whom he controls, to appoint a yes man, but citizen committees want someone else. Hopper is also besieged by his sons, who ask him to appoint Jefferson Smith, the patriotic leader of the Boy Rangers. Confused, Hopper appoints Jeff, then convinces Taylor that naïve Jeff cannot learn enough about politics in time to affect the crooked bill. Jeff's appointment as junior senator is also supported by the senior senator, Joseph Paine, who is both Taylor's stooge and Jeff's idol. Jeff and Paine go to Washington, where Jeff, overwhelmed by his first sight of the Capitol dome, leaves the group and boards a tour bus. Five hours later, he reaches his office, where his cynical secretary, Clarissa Saunders, is waiting for him with her chum, newspaperman Diz Moore. They think Jeff's patriotic spirit is hokum, and Saunders engineers a disasterous press conference for Jeff. The next morning, Paine takes Jeff to be sworn in at the Senate, where one senator objects, alleging that the newspaper stories prove Jeff is unfit. Paine defends Jeff, and after he is sworn in, enraged Jeff goes on a rampage, slugging the reporters, who label him an "honorary stooge." The truth of it stings Jeff, and after seeking advice from Paine, who tells him to sponsor a bill proposing a national Boy Rangers camp, Jeff and Saunders stay up all night working on the bill, which Jeff presents in the Senate the next morning. Despite Jeff's nervousness, the senators like his ideas, except for Paine, who is horrified to discover that Jeff wants to use Taylor's Willet Creek site. Paine knows that Jeff must not be in the Senate the next day, when the Willet Creek bill is being discussed, and so he resolves to distract Jeff with his beautiful daughter Susan. Jeff is thrilled by Susan's attentions, but the next night, Saunders, drunk with Diz, becomes distraught over the way Jeff is being misled. She asks Diz to marry her, and they return to her office to collect her things. Jeff is there when they arrive, however, and she tells him about Paine, Taylor and the graft. As they leave, Diz realizes that Saunders is in no shape to get married, and he takes her home. Stunned by Saunders' revelations, Jeff rushes to Paine's house to confront him, but Paine tries to smooth-talk him. Later, when Taylor himself arrives, he tells Jeff that he runs Paine, and that if Jeff is smart, he will cooperate. The next day, Jeff attempts to speak against the crooked bill, but, not understanding rules of protocol, yields the floor to Paine, who denounces Jeff on charges of using the boys camp for personal gain. Some time later, at Jeff's hearing before the Committee on Privileges and Elections, Hopper, Paine and others present phony evidence that Jeff owns the land upon which he wants to build the camp. Jeff is so dumbfounded by Paine's lies that he cannot testify on his own behalf and decides to leave Washington. Later that night, Jeff goes to the Lincoln Memorial, where Saunders finds him and convinces him to attempt a filibuster. The next morning, after a night of coaching, Jeff reveals the truth about Taylor and Paine to the Senate, even as Paine continues trying to condemn him. Jeff intends to talk until his news reaches his home state, and the people rise up against the corruption, but Taylor organizes a massive newspaper campaign against Jeff. Many hours later, Saunders cheers up Jeff with a note telling him she loves him, and then calls his mother, telling her to enlist the Boy Rangers to spread the truth. The boys publish their tiny newspaper, but Taylor's gang steals the papers and injures some of the boys. Back at the Senate, Paine brings in 50,000 telegrams drummed up by Taylor, all of them urging Jeff to quit. Though discouraged, Jeff resolves to keep fighting, but after he gives one last speech to Paine, he collapses from exhaustion after the almost twenty-four hour filibuster. Paine finally breaks down, and after attempting suicide outside the senate chamber, confesses that everything Jeff has said is true. Everyone in the room cheers and Saunders jumps for joy. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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