80 years ago today, the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, directed by Frank Capra and starring Jimmy Stewart, was released. A political drama about a newly appointed U.S. Senator who confronts corruption in Congress, the film premiered at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC, before 4,000 guests, including 45 senators.
Capra claims that some senators walked out of the premiere. The Senate Majority Leader called the film “silly and stupid”, and a “a grotesque distortion” that “makes the Senate look like a bunch of crooks”. Immediately, it was attacked by the Washington press, and politicians as anti-American and pro-Communist. Even before its release, the motion picture industry censors found the script to be an “unflattering portrayal” liable to be perceived as “a covert attack on the Democratic form of government.”
Despite it all, the tale of an honest civilian, Jefferson Smith (played by Stewart), the head of the ‘Boy Rangers’ who was suddenly appointed to the Senate, was a huge success at the box office. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, made Stewart a major star, and is today considered to be one of the greatest films of all time.
WATCH Sen. Smith’s memorable filibuster speech... (1939)