AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Director: Frank Capra (Dir)
Release Date:   19 Oct 1939
Premiere Information:   Washington, D.C. premiere: 17 Oct 1939
Production Date:   3 Apr--7 Jul 1939
Duration (in mins):   125-126 or 130
Duration (in feet):   11,868
Duration (in reels):   13
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Cast:   Jean Arthur ([Clarissa] Saunders)  
    James Stewart (Jefferson Smith)  
    Claude Rains (Senator Joseph Paine)  
    Edward Arnold (Jim Taylor)  
    Guy Kibbee (Governor [Hubert] Hopper)  
    Thomas Mitchell (Diz Moore)  
    Eugene Pallette (Chick McGann)  
    Beulah Bondi (Ma Smith)  
    H. B. Warner (Senate majority leader)  
    Harry Carey (President of the Senate)  
    Astrid Allwyn (Susan Paine)  
    Ruth Donnelly (Mrs. [Emma] Hopper)  
    Grant Mitchell (Senator MacPherson)  
    Porter Hall (Senator Monroe)  
    Pierre Watkin (Senate minority leader)  
    Charles Lane (Nosey)  
    William Demarest (Bill Griffith)  
    Dick Elliott (Carl Cook)  
    Billy Watson (Hopper boy)  
    Delmar Watson (Hopper boy)  
    John Russell (Hopper boy)  
    Harry Watson (Hopper boy)  
    Gary Watson (Hopper boy)  
    Baby Dumpling (Hopper boy)  
    H. V. Kaltenborn (Himself)  
    Ken Carpenter (Announcer)  
    Jack Carson (Sweeney)  
    Joe King (Summers)  
    Paul Stanton (Flood)  
    Russell Simpson (Allen)  
    Stanley Andrews (Senator Hodges)  
    Walter Soderling (Senator Pickett)  
    Frank Jaquet (Senator Byron)  
    Ferris Taylor (Senator Carlisle)  
    Carl Stockdale (Senator Burdette)  
    Wright Kramer (Senator Carlton)  
    Alan Bridge (Senator Dwight)  
    Edmund Cobb (Senator Gower)  
    Arthur Loft (Chief clerk)  
    Frederick Burton (Senator Dearborn)  
    Harry Bailey (Senator Hammett)  
    Wyndham Standing (Senator Ashman)  
    Robert Walker (Senator Holland)  
    Victor Travers (Senator Grainger)  
    John Ince (Senator Fernwick)  
    Sam Ash (Senator Lancaster)  
    Ed Mortimer (Senator Agnew)  
    Philo McCullough (Senator Albert)  
    Frank O'Connor (Senator Alfred)  
    Harry Stafford (Senator Atwater)  
    Jack Richardson (Senator Manchester)  
    Vera Lewis (Mrs. Edwards)  
    Dora Clement (Mrs. McGann)  
    Laura Treadwell (Mrs. Taylor)  
    Helen Jerome Eddy (Paine's secretary)  
    Ann Doran (Paine's secretary)  
    Beatrice Curtis (Paine's secretary)  
    Byron Foulger (Hopper's secretary)  
    Frank Otto (Fiske)  
    Jack Rice (Lang)  
    Eddie Fetherston (Senate reporter)  
    Ed Randolph (Senate reporter)  
    Milt Kibbee (Senate reporter)  
    Vernon Dent (Senate reporter)  
    Michael Gale (Senate reporter)  
    Anne Cornwall (Senate reporter)  
    James Millican (Senate reporter)  
    Mabel Forrest (Senate reporter)  
    Nick Copeland (Senate reporter)  
    Dulce Daye (Senate reporter)  
    Clyde Dilson (Reporter)  
    William Newell (Reporter)  
    George Chandler (Reporter)  
    Gene Morgan (Reporter)  
    George McKay (Reporter)  
    Matt McHugh (Reporter)  
    Evalyn Knapp (Reporter)  
    Dub Taylor (Reporter)  
    Jack Gardner (Reporter)  
    Donald Kerr (Reporter)  
    Eddie Kane (Reporter)  
    William Arnold (Reporter)  
    Hal Cooke (Reporter)  
    James McNamara (Reporter)  
    Jack Egan (Reporter)  
    Eddy Chandler (Reporter)  
    Dick Fiske (Reporter)  
    Billy Wayne (Reporter)  
    Phan H. Levy (Rabbi)  
    Frederick Hoose (Senator)  
    Count Stefenelli (Foreign diplomat)  
    Alex Novinsky (Foreign diplomat)  
    Burr Caruth (Townsend)  
    Frank Austin (Inventor)  
    Allan Cavan (Ragner)  
    Maurice Costello (Diggs)  
    Lloyd Whitlock (Schultz)  
    Frank Puglia (Handwriting expert)  
    Erville Alderson (Handwriting expert)  
    Maurice Cass (Handwriting expert)  
    Harry Bradley (Kim)  
    Lou Davis (Senate clerk)  
    Brooks Benedict (Senate clerk)  
    Robert Morgan (Senate clerk)  
    Rev. Neal Dodd (Senate chaplain)  
    Robert Middlemass (First speaker)  
    Alec Craig (Second speaker)  
    Harry Hayden (Third speaker)  
    Georgia Caine (Woman speaker)  
    Frank M. Thomas (Hendricks)  
    Louis Jean Heydt (Soap-box speaker)  
    Wade Boteler (Family man)  
    George Lloyd (Hoodlum)  
    Joe Palma (Hoodlum)  
    Harry Anderson (Hoodlum)  
    Charles Regan (Hoodlum)  
    Jack Low (Hoodlum)  
    Robert Emmett Keane (Editor)  
    Mary MacLaren (Head Sister)  
    Olaf Hytten (Butler)  
    Wilson Benge (Butler)  
    John Lester Johnson (Butler)  
    Ed Thomas (Butler)  
    Davison Clark (Committeeman)  
    Landers Stevens (Committeeman)  
    William Worthington (Committeeman)  
    Lloyd Ingraham (Committeeman)  
    Larry Steers (Committeeman)  
    Jesse Graves (Black committeeman)  
    Georgia Cooper (Committeewoman)  
    Kathryn Bates (Committeewoman)  
    Florence Wix (Committeewoman)  
    Gladys Gale (Committeewoman)  
    Blanche Payson (Committeewoman)  
    Jane K. Loofbourrow (Committeewoman)  
    Catherine Courtney (Committeewoman)  
    Bessie Wade (Committeewoman)  
    Emma Tansey (Committeewoman)  
    Eleanor Wood (Committeewoman)  
    Hank Mann (Photographer)  
    Jack Cooper (Photographer)  
    Eddie Coke (Photographer)  
    Lynton Brent (Photographer)  
    Max Waizman (Photographer)  
    John Ward (Photographer)  
    James Lucas (Photographer)  
    Joe Devlin (Waiter)  
    George Cooper (Waiter)  
    Eddie Brewer (Bartender/Senate reporter)  
    Ralph McCullough (Asst bartender)  
    Hugh Brundage (Announcer)  
    Dave Willock (Senate guard)  
    Roger Haliday (Senate guard)  
    Myonno Walsh (Jane Hopper)  
    Wilfred Hari (House boy)  
    Snowflake (Porter)  
    Charles Moore (Porter)  
    Charles Sullivan (Cab driver)  
    Arthur Thalasso (Doorman)  
    Wally Dean (Paine's friend)  
    Anita Young (Paine's friend)  
    Frederick Vroom (Paine's friend)  
    Margaret Mann (Nun)  
    Howard Mitchell (Shoe salesman)  
    Harry Depp (Hat salesman/Secretary)  
    Gino Corrado (Barber)  
    Ben Taggart (Pompous man)  
    Field Norton (Pompous man)  
    Wilfred Lucas (Pompous man)  
    Lafe McKee (Civil War veteran)  
    Dickie Jones (Page boy)  
    Layne Tom Jr. (Boy ranger)  
    Ray Nichols (Boy ranger)  
    Sammy McKim (Boy ranger)  
    Phillip Hurlic (Boy ranger)  
    Frank Bellan (Boy ranger)  
    Billy Lechner (Boy ranger)  
    Jackie Lowe (Boy ranger)  
    Tommy Baker (Boy ranger)  
    Douglas Evans ("Francis Scott Key")  
    Walter Sande (Newspaperman)  
    Harlan Briggs (Edward)  
    John Dilson (Secretary)  
    Gayle Morris    
    Frances Gifford    
    Lorna Gray    
    Linda Winters    
    June Gittelson    
    Mary Gordon    
    Shirley Coates    
    Frank Hammond    
    Frank Arthur Swales    
    Constance Bergen    
    Beryl Wallace    
    Dorothy Short    
    Dorothy Dugan    
    Franz English    
    Henry Roquemore    
    Lester Dorr    
    Tommy Bupp    
    Hershel McMullin    
    Bobby Larson    
    Isabelle La Mal    
    Betty Roadman    
    Mary Currier    
    Jean Fowler    
    Arthur Stuart Hull    
    Phil Dunham    
    Broderick O'Farrell    
    Howard Chase    
    J. C. Fowler    
    Edward Earle    
    Robert Dudley    
    Gus Glassmire    
    Brandon Beach    
    Tom Curran    
    Mitchell Ingraham    
    Clark Morgan    

Summary: 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. 

Production Company: Columbia Pictures Corp.  
Distribution Company: Columbia Pictures Corp.  
Director: Frank Capra (Dir)
  Charles Vidor (2d unit dir)
  Harold Winston (Dial dir)
  Arthur S. Black (Asst dir)
Producer: Frank Capra (Prod)
Writer: Sidney Buchman (Scr)
  Lewis R. Foster (Story)
  Myles Connolly (Contr to scr const and dial)
Photography: Joseph Walker (Dir of photog)
  William Jolley (Asst cam)
  Victor Scheurich (1st operative cam)
  George Kelly (2nd operative cam)
  Enzo Martinelli (2nd asst cam)
  A. L. Schafer (Spec portrait art)
  Irving Lippman (Prod stills)
Art Direction: Lionel Banks (Art dir)
  Cary Odell (Asst art dir)
Film Editor: Gene Havlick (Film ed)
  Al Clark (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Walter Holscher (Set des)
  George Montgomery (Set dresser)
Costumes: Kalloch (Gowns)
  Ray Howell (Head of women's and men's ward)
  Forrest Butler (Men's ward)
  Roselle Novello (Women's ward)
Music: M. W. Stoloff (Mus dir)
  Dimitri Tiomkin (Mus score)
Sound: Edward Bernds (Sd eng)
Special Effects: Fred Jackman Jr. (Spec eff)
  Slavko Vorkapich (Mont eff)
  John Hoffman (Mont eff)
Make Up: Helen Hunt (Hair)
  Faye Hanlin (Hair)
  William Knight (Makeup)
  Fred Phillips (Makeup)
Production Misc: James D. Preston (Tech adv)
  Jack Wren (Master of prop)
  George Hager (Head elec)
  Al Later (Asst elec)
  James Lloyd (Head grip)
  Joseph Sistrom (Prod asst)
  Richard McWhorter (2nd asst dir)
  Rex Bailey (2nd asst dir)
Country: United States

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Columbia Pictures Corp. 10/10/1939 dd/mm/yyyy LP9164

PCA NO: 5370
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording

 
Genre: Comedy-drama
Sub-Genre: Political
 
Subjects (Major): Democracy
  Idealism
  Innocents
  Political corruption
  Secretaries
  United States. Congress. Senate
  United States--Senators
 
Subjects (Minor): Attempted suicide
  Bills, Legislative
  Boys clubs
  Drunkenness
  Filibusters
  Frame-ups
  Fraud
  National characteristics, American
  Political bosses
  Press conferences
  Proposals (Marital)
  Publicity
  Reporters
  Romance
  Washington (D.C.)

Note: 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. 

Bibliographic Sources:   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.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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