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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington(1939)

Even in 1939, this patriotic yet critical depiction of the U.S. Senate as, in one politician’s words, “the biggest aggregation of nincompoops on record,” was furiously controversial, with politicians threatening to have it banned. Fortunately, audiences loved it, turning it into one of Frank Capra’s biggest hits and making James Stewart a star. Stewart plays an unlikely choice to take over a vacated Senate seat. His small-town integrity charms and infuriates his colleagues while putting him on a collision course with his home state’s big political boss. Capra cast the film perfectly, with Jean Arthur as the assistant who falls for him, Thomas Mitchell as a cynical reporter, Beulah Bondi as Stewart’s mother, Edward Arnold as the political boss and, best of all, Claude Rains as the corrupt senator going after Stewart. Capra was keen to direct Lewis R. Foster’s original story “The Gentleman from Montana,” but at first envisioned it as a sequel to Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), with Gary Cooper’s Longfellow Deeds as the new senator. When Cooper wasn’t available, he turned to Stewart, with whom he had just worked on You Can’t Take It with You (1938). The role earned Stewart the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor but somehow did not bring him the Oscar. (d. Frank Capra, 129m, Digital)

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