Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

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Released 20-Jun-2005

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-Frank Capra Jr.
Theatrical Trailer
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Gallery-Poster-Vintage Advertising
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1939
Running Time 124:47
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (85:42) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Frank Capra
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Jean Arthur
James Stewart
Claude Rains
Edward Arnold
Guy Kibbee
Thomas Mitchell
Eugene Pallette
Beulah Bondi
H.B. Warner
Harry Carey
Astrid Allwyn
Ruth Donnelly
Grant Mitchell
Case ?
RPI $14.95 Music Dimitri Tiomkin


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
German
Italian
Spanish
Dutch
Arabic
Bulgarian
Czech
Danish
Finnish
Greek
Hebrew
Hindi
Hungarian
Icelandic
Norwegian
Polish
Portuguese
Swedish
Turkish
French Audio Commentary
German Audio Commentary
Italian Audio Commentary
Spanish Audio Commentary
Dutch Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    A senator from a south-western state dies. The local political machine run by Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) tells the Governor (Guy Kibbee) to recommend a crony, but the party refuses and instead proposes a reformer. The Governor, inspired by his children, opts for a compromise candidate: Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), who runs the Boy Rangers and has just heroically put out a forest fire single-handedly.

    Taylor reluctantly agrees that the naïve Smith can be used as a stooge, especially when guided by the state's other senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) and secretary Saunders (Jean Arthur). When Smith realises that the Deficiency Bill contains an amount for a useless dam in his state on land owned by Taylor, he decides to object to the Bill in the Senate. But he is tricked by Paine, and framed for corruption by Taylor and his machine. With the help of Saunders, Smith tries to turn the tables on Taylor and his cronies.

    Following the success of Mr Deeds Goes to Town, Columbia's premier director Frank Capra decided to produce a semi-sequel. The first film's star Gary Cooper was unavailable, so instead of Mr Deeds Goes to Washington James Stewart was cast as the younger but similarly idealistic Smith. Many of the elements that made the earlier film a success are present here as well. A lot more money though was spent on this production, most of which must have gone into the realistic Senate set in which much of the action takes place.

    While some may quail at the often mawkish American sentiment on display here, there is no doubting the sincerity with which it was made. Smith may become cynical about the graft and corruption in the Senate, but he shows no cynicism about the ideals which founded the nation, nor about the hearts of his fellow ordinary citizens. The film is very much one of its era. The 1930s saw left wing causes come more to the forefront of American life in the face of the Depression, unemployment and poverty, and with the storm clouds of totalitarianism sweeping across Europe. There would have been many people who still recalled the rampant corruption and fixing of late Nineteenth Century politics, and many more who remembered the tainted administration of Warren G. Harding less than two decades earlier.

    While this is a five star film, there are still some problems with it, surprisingly on the technical side of things. There are a few edits that jar and occasional minor lapses in continuity, although to be fair Columbia was something of a poor relation to the major studios at the time. None of this really seems to matter when the material is so strong, and the film builds to a fine climax, highlighted by Stewart's sensational performance. While he lost out to Robert Donat at the Oscars, the Academy gave him something of a consolation prize the next year by giving him the Best Actor award for a far less impressive role in The Philadelphia Story. Not that that hasn't happened before or since.

    Stewart is supported by a remarkable cast, even by the standards of the time. Jean Arthur had appeared in several Capra films before this, and she manages to convince as she changes from cynical political secretary to Smith supporter. Thomas Mitchell has something less to work with as the reporter Diz. Edward Arnold is appropriately slimy and sinister as Taylor, while Rains is excellent as Paine, though his makeup is less convincing. He was nominated for an Oscar as supporting actor, as was Harry Carey in a smaller but significant role as the Vice President. Even the tiniest roles have familiar talented character actors in them: H. B. Warner as the majority leader, Grant Mitchell, Porter Hall and Pierre Watkin as senators, Jack Carson, Dub Taylor, Hank Mann and the now centenarian Charles Lane as reporters, Beulah Bondi as Smith's mother, Ruth Donnelly as the Governor's wife. Frog-voiced Eugene Pallette and William Demarest play two of Taylor's cronies. Particularly funny is a short, almost throwaway sequence where the rotund Pallette struggles to get out of a phone booth after making a call.

    Highly entertaining and uplifting, Mr Smith Goes to Washington is one of those films that deservedly can be called A Classic, and its release at last in Region 4 is something worth celebrating.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced. The original aspect ratio was of course 1.37:1.

    This transfer is taken from a restoration negative produced by the Library of Congress. It has not been digitally restored and cleaned-up, but it probably looks better than it has since it was released. Even so, there are some problems with it that I found distracting at times.

    The transfer is sharp though a little soft for most of the running time. There are a couple of sequences where the video looks a little softer and grainier, probably due to the lack of pristine elements for the restoration. Contrast is excellent, and there are only minor deficiencies in shadow detail. The grey scale is excellent, ranging from deep blacks to nearly pure whites, with nice shades of grey in between.

    Some telecine wobble is evident during the opening credits but practically invisible thereafter. Aliasing shows up once or twice, but you would have to be looking very closely to see it.

    Film artefacts are more prevalent than I would have liked. There are flecks throughout, though never a shower of them. There is some flickering as well as faint scratches. Most noticeable though are faint splotches of the sort that I would associate with the early stages of nitrate decomposition, and that manifest themselves as brief patches of lighter colour. Some sequences have more of these than others. Film grain is kept in check for the most part, except at edits where the grain increases noticeably but briefly.

    Optional subtitles are available in more languages than you would find at the United Nations. The English subtitles are in a small white font, well timed and readable. They seem to be in American spelling and the gist of the dialogue is conveyed if not the verbatim text.

    The disc is RSDL-formatted with the layer change almost invisibly placed at 85:42.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Audio is available in several languages, with the default being English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono.

    The audio is not too bad, but there is some hiss and at least one sequence where the sound is harsh and congested, from 39:45 for a few seconds. Generally the audio can be listened to without pain, and the dialogue is clear and distinct throughout.

    The music score by Dmitri Tiomkin fits the film very well, combining original themes with patriotic music and Americana and a couple of old standards.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Not quite Special Edition treatment, but a reasonable selection of extras nonetheless.

Audio Commentary-Frank Capra Jr.

    The director's son, who was about 4 when the movie was made, provides an illuminating commentary. He goes into detail about the origins of the film, the casting and the adverse reaction of the Washington press.

Theatrical Trailer (1:44)

    An original trailer which gives away little of the plot.

Featurette-Behind The Scenes (11:51)

    Not so much a behind the scenes documentary as a short reminiscence of the film by Frank Capra Jr, in which he gives a précis of his audio commentary.

Gallery-Poster-Vintage Advertising

    A set of posters, lobby cards and newspaper ads for the film.

Biographies-Cast & Crew

    Short biographies and filmographies of Capra, Stewart and Arthur.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The US Region 1 differs only by being in NTSC format and having trailers for two other Capra films. Not enough to make you go to Washington to buy it, even if your name is Smith.

Summary

    A superb entry in the unique Frank Capra canon.

    The video quality is excellent though the source material is not quite perfect.

    The audio quality is pretty good, though again not perfect.

    Some useful extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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