Yet another brilliant Jimmy Stewart movie
There are films that are purely formulaic and consequently redundant, and then there are select classics that seem to be inspired by the same formula but in a way that make them feel fresh every time you see them. Such is the case with legendary director Frank Capra's political 1939 masterwork, as he and veteran screenwriter Sidney Buchman tell the story of the underdog who must face seemingly impenetrable obstacles to achieve a greater good. Capra made his reputation on films which conveyed such unbridled idealism like his most famous work, 1946's It's A Wonderful Life, but I would argue that this one has a broader sense of resonance since it deals unflinchingly with the corrupted American political structure, a situation that has unfortunately changed little in the nearly seventy years since the film's original release.
A young James Stewart is perfectly cast as Jefferson Smith, the naïve leader of a local Boy Scouts-type organization, who is swept into office as his state's junior senator by the all-powerful political machine headed by a Boss Tweed-like figure, media mogul Jim Taylor. In awe of the senior senator, Joseph Paine, Smith follows Paine's advice to push a bill for a national boys' camp back in the home state. A problem arises in the fact that the camp is to be built on the Willets Dam site which Taylor and Paine plan to use for graft. Along the way, Smith wins the support of his initially cynical secretary, Clarissa Saunders, who becomes inspired by Smith's integrity and encourages him to push the bill. This leads to his tenacious efforts to pass the bill, going as far as staging a 23-hour filibuster on the U.S. Senate floor. It's a monumental climax that Stewart turns into one of the most classic scenes in film history.
Supporting performances by familiar actors are uniformly strong with the wonderfully acerbic Jean Arthur as Saunders, Edward Arnold in full-bluster mode as Taylor, Harry Carey as the silently supportive Senate president and Claude Rains as the conflicted Paine, with Thomas Mitchell, Guy Kibbee, Eugene Pallette, H.B. Warner and Beulah Bondi in smaller roles.