Mr. Smith holds up over time better than most of the films shot in the 1980s. This is a “classic,” but that’s not why it’s a top pick on most political film lists. It’s more than a classic; it’s about something real. Jimmy Stewart turns in a tour de force performance the kind that still sends chills 70 years later. And it’s funny, with great comic timing and scenes that sear.
Some of the film techniques seem like modern camera work. The lighting is often naturalistic, not overly lit, and the cutting is very precise. Frank Capra was a masterful director, and I’m in awe of what he achieved here.
What Mr. Smith tells us today is that corruption is real. It’s seductive. It’s criminal. It’s rationalized, and if you go up against it, you will most likely be squashed like a bug – like Jefferson Smith is squashed over the course of the film. They really turn the screws on Mr. Smith, and that’s to be expected in the natural course of Washington business as usual.
This film is made by grownups for grownups. Apparently it was common knowledge 70 years ago that corruption and conspiracy was the status quo. Today, we have the nonsensical ad hominem attack on “conspiracy theorists” whenever crime in government is called out or justice demanded by the commoners.
Mr. Smith shows us that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, and that only by championing a “lost cause” that is just can we secure the ideas of freedom and justice in our own time. This message is welcome, needed, and ever so true. This film represents the highest dramatization of American values, and the true spirit of America that is often hard to locate.