Mr Smith goes to Washington (Analysis)

Mr Smith Goes To Washington

Summary of Mr Smith goes to Washington

A Senator of an West State has just died. Sam Taylor, a corrupt and local newspaper magnate, ordered the governor to appoint to a straw man, “who will obey the orders”. The choice of the governor is on Jefferson Smith, the local scout leader, a naive and inexperienced idealistic naive. But Mr. Smith, assisted by his beautiful secretary, finally discovers the plot, he will try to denounce the corruption.

In front of Taylor and his associates, Jefferson Smith seems unable to make things change. It is not in place in Washington (all, including his allies, continue to repeat it), where his enthusiasm and his provincialism to his being the laughingstock of the Gotha and the press. But the film does not fit the look of the urban sarcastic cynical, sophisticated and cruel. Rather, it is these that are ridiculed, while the main character is portrayed with real tenderness. There is of course a touch of populism in opposition a schematic anything between a representative of the American heartland, bearer of the true values, and intellectuals of the capital, that their culture and intelligence have perverted rather than greater wisdom.


The film adopts and systematically the views of children. Smith himself is a big kid suddenly plunged into an adult world, but his candor is less a weakness than a mark of moral superiority. This “decent man” lost among the wolves is actually the figure of the ideal politician as conceived by the authors: genuinely had the principles he is supposed to stand, it appears as the latest member of one religion misguided. In this sense, it does not behave as a tourist, on his arrival in Washington, that true godly pilgrim visiting the symbolic places of worship democracy – like the statue of Lincoln, a true idol to which he will address his prayers and inspired him the courage to stand up against Taylor. Using the example of Jefferson Smith, is meant to educate and enlighten the viewer, very few Western films have shown this much faith in the capacity of cinema to the masses and build to make man better.

We can also assume that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington contributed more to inform American citizens the functioning of their institutions than many civic education programs. When his secretary explains the long and complex journey of a law to Smith, it’s the Americans that it is addressed, with a never heavy didacticism as it fits seamlessly into the narrative. Same thing with us when Smith discovers the specific rituals that have short in the Senate. But do not necessarily consider Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as a mere apology for American democracy as practiced at the time (and, in many ways, as practiced today). Because the film is far from gentle with the upper house of Congress. Thus, Smith announced that he will not intervene for the first session but will be content to listen, a young page tit for tat retort that this is the “best way to get re-elected”! Similarly, it is clear that the representatives of the American people they entrust to others the task of drafting laws they will vote without understanding them or even read them …

Of course, the film pretends that no point of deviance isolated (a single state is shown to be corrupt on the forty-eight what were then the Union) and is careful not to directly challenge an electoral system that favors oligarchy. Figure (unforgettable) the President of the Senate, good man whose smiles emotional communicative act as intermediaries between the viewer and Smith has clearly been devised to alleviate this vision of an institution through which the deficiencies and are also ruthlessly put to light. Politicians of the time did they were doing: they offense at the mirror held out as a film they deemed anti-American – even pro-Communist! As for the press, despite the precautions there as the scenario that is say a handful of journalists, the time of a scene, they work primarily for the benefit of the American people, she did not like either to see out into the open his incestuous relations with the powers of money. It proved very hard on the film … this did not prevent it from meeting a huge hit with audiences.

For disturbing because it may seem, this fable seeks less to shake the American political system to revivify, which explains its impact in the U.S. and abroad. The U.S. ambassador in London, Joseph Kennedy (father of future president), fearing that the propaganda of the Axis countries did serve as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to discredit American democracy, asked Harry Cohn, then at the head of the firm Columbia, to prohibit its distribution in Europe. Cohn refused to surrender, and he did well: the film, too subversive, found himself banned in all dictatorships of the time (Germany, Russia, Italy, Spain) and aroused admiration in the allied nations in the U.S. . It must be said that his dialogues are unambiguous, being careful to remember the superiority of the democratic system (with respect to two emissaries of dictatorships came to attend the debates: “They came to see democracy in action”) and more specifically the system American democratic “democracy that great men have given to the human race! “One may smile (or get excited) against this claim messianic found even today across the Atlantic, but it is clear that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a war machine that really works for American model. This clearly makes this movie a philosophical one of a kind.

Cite this article as: Tim, "Mr Smith goes to Washington (Analysis), June 5, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, June 5, 2012,

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