Smith Goes to Washington (1939) DVD
This recommendation is adapted from an April 27, 2005, BuzzFlash editorial.
It was made more than 60 years ago (in 1939), but Frank Capra's gloriously sentimental and patriotic "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" puts the Bushevik notion of ending the filibuster to shame.
In this uplifting ode to democracy, Jimmy Stewart plays a wide-eyed Jefferson Smith taking on the corrupt political boss of a western state (Montana) and a senator (Claude Rains) who has sold his soul to the devil in order to attain power. Stewart is considered a naïve rube, a hayseed leader of a boy scout movement in his state, who is appointed senator to fill out the term of a deceased partner in crime to Senator Paine (Rains). Stewart is reluctantly "approved" by the media mogul and industrial baron who controls the state, Jim Taylor.
The expectation is that Jefferson Smith will just sit dumfounded by his good luck and keep his mouth shut as Paine ushers a bill through the Senate that will make his mentor and himself rich through graft.
But, unlike modern times, the defilers of democracy misjudged Jefferson Smith's devotion to the principles of the American Constitution and his sense of fairness and justice. Once a formerly cynical secretary (Jean Arthur) alerts Stewart to the fact that he is being played for a sap and reveals the illegal profiteering plans of Paine and Taylor, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is off to the races -- or to a filibuster. Within the film, one radio commentator describes the filibuster as the ultimate tribute to democracy: one man (or woman) can bring the United States Senate to a stand still in order to stand up for his (or her) beliefs.
Unlike the phony, Disney-like notions of democracy that Bush spouts while trying to turn our government into a Politburo, Jefferson Smith filibusters for decency, integrity, equality and justice. The senator and corrupt political/media machine that he challenges are the antithesis of what our founding fathers envisioned for this nation. (It is amazing to note how Taylor, the corporate baron of Montana, also controls the media and prevents Jefferson Smith's charges against the Taylor machine from being printed in papers or aired on the radio in the state. It's just like the NATIONAL media today being in bed with the Bush administration.)
Most Americans don't agree with the radical Biblical Taliban positions of the Busheviks, but the Republicans put on a better show in 2004 -- you might have called it "Fear Factor" -- and kept their crimes from being exposed by whitewashing every one of them -- and those were only the ones that came out in public. They launch phony investigations of themselves and then announce "all clear." It would have been like Al Capone being allowed to appoint his own hand-picked "committee" to investigate if he had any connections to the mob. That's why they are in power. Some of them are criminal; some of them are psychotic. They need to be in jail or need mental health services. They should not have a seat in government.
It only took one good man -- with the coaching of one good woman -- to bring down such charlatans in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," one wide-eyed true believer in the promise and glory of the American dream.
Jefferson Smith, in Capra's film, goes to the Lincoln monument for inspiration. He doesn't think of how Lincoln's words would sound in a political speech. He doesn't try them out in a focus group.
Jefferson Smith goes to the Lincoln Monument because he BELIEVES in the words of Lincoln, of government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Smith's father had told him that social and political causes that appear as if they are losing ones are the ones most worth fighting.
Surely, the future of democracy is just such a cause.
This Columbia Classic Reissued DVD includes an informative interview with Frank Capra's son, vintage trailers and posters. You can even watch it with Thai or Chinese subtitles, if you are so inclined. On that big online retailer with the name of a river, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" received 5 stars based on 74 reviews. That's as high as it gets, but it should have received 100 stars, one for each state. (Although, as a point of interest, there were only 96 senators when the film was made, because Alaska and Hawaii had not yet been admitted into the Union. So you will here the roll call referred to as "96 senators" in the film.)