Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

January 21, 2009

Have you heard of "Capra corn"? Director Frank Capra made a string of movies in the 1930's and 1940's that some at the time considered "corny" because of their idealism, optimism and aw-shucks, gee golly approach to the American dream. But as someone who believes in an aw-shucks, gee golly American dream, I find these movies anything but corny.

You may have seen "It's a Wonderful Life," perhaps the most popular and most viewed of the Capra movies, but "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is probably his best. Frank Capra himself acknowledged that it was his favorite of his movies. In fact, when addressing the fact that the movie only won one Oscar, he said "Don't make the best picture you ever made in the year that someone else makes Gone with the Wind."

Mr. Smith is the story of a young Boy Scout leader, Jefferson Smith, who teaches his scouts about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and all of the wondrous promise that America offers. It is the story of a man who refuses to be disillusioned about the government despite the corruption that he finds in Washington.

Frank Capra teamed with writer Robert Riskin for almost all of his films, and the teaming was dynamite. Together they made some of the most heartwarming, endearing American films. Capra/Riskin films were often about helping out the other guy, reaching out to your neighbor, having faith in the government (but being vigilant), and being all around swell citizens.

Capra movies have probably shaped my own understanding of America and the American dream more than anything or anyone else. Even my admiration and support of President Barack Obama stems from my admiration of the idealistic characters in Frank Capra films--- characters like Jefferson Smith, a character who embodied courage, idealism, citizenship, and hope... and was everything but corny.


Ginger Ingenue said...

Hi Kate,
What a great idea for a blog! :)

Your drawings are wonderful...I especially like this one, since MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON is my most favorite movie ever!

How perfect...

I agree about Capra, and his vision of America, and life in general...I often say that my life is most like a Capra film (living in the South, people treat me like I'm Jeff Smith or something: too aw-shucks to know any better); also, with Obama: I totally agree! I kept thinking on inauguration day, it's 'Obama goes to Washington!' :)

Though I'm guessing he was already IN Washington. ;)

Anonymous said...

I was thinking the same thing- I wasn't in the mood to sketch at all on Jan. 20 because I had been so overcome with joy I had been bawling my eyes out all day and I was quite worn out! But then I thought "I need to do something so that whenever I look back at the sketch I'll remember inauguration day"... hence the Mr. Smith sketch.

It's one of my all-time favorites too (though I say that about a whole bunch of films)

By the way, I love your blog --I sent you an email expressing my regard for your taste in actors :)

Tom said...

I couldn't agree more. Great post.