Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
November 29, 2014 by Dennis Amith
“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is a timeless Frank Capra classic that is relevant today and it will continue to remain relevant for many decades to come. Featuring wonderful direction by Frank Capra and an amazing performance by James Stewart and Jean Arthur, plus a 4K restoration, a digibook release and a great amount of special features about Frank Capra’s oeuvre, this Blu-ray release is highly recommended!
Image courtesy of © 1939, renewed 1967 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
YEAR OF FILM: 1939
DURATION: 129 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 aspect ratio, black and white, English 1.0 DTS-HD MA, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English SDH, Chinese Traditional, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese (Brazil and Portugal), Spanish, Thai
COMPANY: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: December 2, 2014
Directed by Frank Capra
Screenplay by Sidney Buchman
Story by Lewis R. Foster
Produced by Frank Capra
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography by Joseph Walker
Edited by Al Clark, Gene Havlick
Art Direction by Lionel Banks
Costume Design by Robert Kalloch
Jean Arthur as Saunders
James Stewart as Jefferson Smith
Claude Rains as Senator Joseph Paine
Edward Artnold as Jim Taylor
Guy Kibbee as Governor Hopper
Eugene Pallette as Chick McGann
Beaulah Bondi as Ma Smith
Harry Carey as President of the Senate
H.B. Warner as Senate Majority Leader
Grant Mitchell as Senator MacPherson
An idealistic, newly-appointed senator (James Stewart) heads to Washington, where he single-handedly battles ruthless politicians out to destroy him. Winner of the 1939 Academy Award® for Best Writing (Original Story), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a timeless and stirring ode to the power of democracy.
As the legendary Frank Capra was known to churn out box office hits and win several Academy Awards with films such as “It Happened One Night”, “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”, “Lost Horizon”, “You Can’t Take It With You”, his optimistic films that were known to be happy and full of hope, would take a turn in the late ’30s for a more darker path.
After working on war films that depicted the genocide brought by the Nazi’s, this brought a change in Capra, as evident in his 1939 film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”.
While the film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won “Best Original Story” (and in 1989, the Library of Congress added the film to the United States National Film Registry, for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”, it was not a film that would receive a lot of praise from Washington or the press.
Mainly because it was one of the more popular films to portray politicians as corrupt, including the Washington press. While the politicians and political press would become vocal about the film, the film was also banned in other countries. But the controversy over the film and the political response would do nothing but to benefit the film and over 70-years since the film was released in theaters, become an American classic as a film about one Senator trying to make a stand against political corruption.
“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” would be nominated for 11 Academy Awards and would earn Lewis R. Foster an Oscar for “Best Writing, Original Story”.
Considered as one of Capra’s best, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” will be released on Blu-ray in Dec. 2014 and the film has received a full restoration in 4K and will be released as a Digibook, with rare behind-the-scenes photos and an all-new essay about the making of the film.
“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” begins with the death of U.S. Senator Sam Foley. Governor Hubert “Happy” Hopper (portrayed by Guy Kibee) must choose a replacement and under the pressure of corrupt political leader Jim Taylor (portrayed by Edward Arnold) to hire a reformer named Henry Hill, Happy’s children pressure him to vote for Jefferson Smith (portrayed by James Stewart), the head of the Boy Rangers.
Torn about who he will vote for, Hopper decides to flip a coin and the winner would be Jefferson Smith, in hopes that this politically naive newcomer will be easy to manipulate.
Junior Senator Jefferson Smith is taken in by his father’s late friend, Senator Joseph Paine (portrayed by Claude Rains). Not knowing that Senator Paine is working with the corrupt Jim Taylor.
But because the Washington media smells inexperience with Senator Smith, they begin publishing news articles that he is nothing but a country bumpkin, which tarnishes his reputation in Washington amongst his colleagues. As he tries to fight against the media for trying to hurt him, he is told by many media that he is nothing but a man who follows whatever his political leaders tells him to do.
Senator Smith wants to make a difference but Senator Paine tells him to sit back and to not let it affect him.
Wanting to prove that he is ready for the job as Senator, to assist Senator Smith is his secretary Clarrisa Saunders (portrayed by Jean Arthur), who worked for the late-Sam Foley and knows the political system very well. Clarissa sees the naive politician as being too good for politics but hearing him want to make a difference with society and wanting him to be important, she suggests that he propose a bill.
And wanting to show his importance, he proposes a bill to his fellow Senators and that is to authorize a federal government loan to buy some land in his home estate for a national boys’ camp, which would be paid back by youngsters across America and while it receives attention from children and the proposal begins to receive donations, Jim Taylor does not like it.
Taylor despises the proposal because the proposed campsite is part of a dam-building scheme included in an appropriation bill by Taylor and Senator Paine.
And just when things are going right, Taylor and Paine concoct a plan that Senator Smith is profiting from his bill because he owns the land in question. Senator Smith realizes he is being framed and can’t understand why Senator Paine is trying to frame him for a crime he did not do. And with the U.S. press picking up a story, Senator Smith’s reputation is tarnished.
Will Senator Smith be able to prove that he is a good man and that the things he was accused for is not true?
“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:37:1 aspect ratio). Picture quality for the film is fantastic as white and grays are well-contrast while black levels are nice and deep. The film shows amazing clarity on Blu-ray showcases the detail of the film in high definition. I did not notice any damage to the film.
Comparing to the original DVD releases that I’ve had, clarity is evident. Sharpness was evident, along with the black levels which were inky and deep. There is a good amount of grain throughout the entire film and no doubt, this is the definitive version of “It Happened One Night” in terms of picture quality!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
As for audio, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is presented in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. The monaural lossless soundtrack is crystal clear with no sign of hiss, crackle or any popping.
Subtitles are in English SDH, Chinese Traditional, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese (Brazil and Portugal), Spanish and Thai.
“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Frank Capra Jr.
- Frank Capra Jr. Remembers… “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” – (11:52) Frank Capra Jr. talks about his father and his father working on “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”.
- Conversations with Frank Capra Jr.: The Golden Years – (17:53) Frank Capra Jr. talks about his father’s work during the 1930’s (The Golden Years of Hollywood).
- Frank Capra Collaboration – (19:20) Film historians discuss Frank Capra’s influence in cinema.
- Conversations with Frank Capra Jr.: A Family History – (25:57) A featurette about Frank Capra Jr. talking about his father, Frank Capra coming to America and how his father was to the family.
- The Frank Capra I Knew – (13:06) Jeanine Basinger, curator of the Frank Capra Archives at Wesleyan University, discusses her working relationship and friendship with Frank Capra.
- Frank Capra’s American Dream – (1:49:03) The full 1997 documentary about Frank Capra and his cinema work.
- Trailer – (1:24) The original theatrical trailer and international trailer for “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”.
“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” comes in a digibook package with 28-pages. Featuring photos from the film plus “The Making of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” essay by Jeremy Arnold.
My first introduction to “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is perhaps how many adults today have known about the film and that is through school. In my case, it was shown multiple times during political science class in high school and again in college. While it was used as an educational tool for the term “fillibuster”, it wouldn’t be until my adult years when I discovered the oeuvre of Frank Capra thanks to “It Happened One Night” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”, that I began to learn and also rediscover Capra’s films with better insight.
But while “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is a film that stood up to political corruption back in the 1939, it is a film that has had its relevance decades later.
Sure, we know there are corrupted politicians and that there are corrupted newspaper media but back then, it was a different time in which Frank Capra was seen as evil, his film to be pro-communist, something that the filmmaker would have to deal with years later, considering that he was a man who loved America, created films beloved by Americans but yet, when he creates a film that is seen as a renegade film to Washington politicians, today’s society would praise it, yesterday’s politicians detested it.
“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” marked the end between Frank Capra and with Harry Cohn and Columbia Pictures. He worked for Columbia Pictures which was seen as a Poverty Row studio, earned them Academy Awards for “It Happened One Night” and for years later, he would become the #1 director in America, but also during wartime, having to work on films that deal with what is happening at war, but also the atrocities that were committed against humanity which would change him before working on “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”.
His eyes saw the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany and to see the crimes of humanity and while his films have always ended with hope, his films would be less about the comedy but also to depict the sad, frailty of human nature. This can be seen in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and even the Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” which dealt with suicide.
The story was about a good man, wanting to make a difference as a Senator but to quickly learn the dark side of politics behind-the-scenes and how his own friend, would turn against him for the sake of politics.
Both James Stewart and Jean Arthur gave a wonderful performance. For me, I always am amazed to watch Jean Arthur, may it be on a screwball comedy or a drama film, she was a woman full of anxiety and was so shy that she spent most of her time in her dressing room.
Frank Capra wrote in his book “The Name Above the Title” about Arthur, “Jean Arthur is my favorite actress. Probably because she was unique. Never have I seen a performer plagued with such a chronic case of stage jitters. I’m sure she vomited before and after every scene. When the cameras stopped, she’d run headlong to her dressing room, locked herself in-and cry.”
For James Stewart, I always thought he gave a wonderful performance faking a man with his throat roached from standing hours of talking. In truth, a doctor swabbed mercury solution that irritated his vocal chords, to the point that it was hard for him to speak, but yet he gave a wonderful performance nonetheless, making us see and believe Senator Smith.
While I have owned various versions of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” throughout the years, this is no doubt the best version to date. Fully restored in 4K, the picture quality looks absolutely amazing. The film is sharp, white and grays are well contrast and black levels are nice and deep. I saw no blemishes while watching this film and I was absolutely pleased with the overall look of the film. The lossless soundtrack is in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. And another plus to this amazing Blu-ray release is the plethora of special features included.
And last, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is released in digibook format with 28-pages and for anyone who is not familiar with digibook, these are released for a short time and are often changed to the usual casing later on. If you are a digibook collector, you will definitely want to get this film when it’s released.
Overall, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is a timeless Frank Capra classic that is relevant today and it will continue to remain relevant for many decades to come. Featuring wonderful direction by Frank Capra and an amazing performance by James Stewart and Jean Arthur, plus a 4K restoration, a digibook release and a great amount of special features about Frank Capra’s oeuvre, this Blu-ray release is highly recommended!
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