Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a black and white film released in 1939 depicting a corrupt government at its worst. The movie starts off with the governor of a certain state receiving a call during the night informing him that one of his senators died. James Taylor, the corrupt politician who controls the entire state, tells him to put a man on the Senate that’ll listen. A lapdog, essentially. The governor announces the man and receives a massive uproar from the press and the people. He heads home and his children tell him to place Jefferson Smith, leader of the local boy rangers, on the Senate. He complies, naming the man as a Senator without consulting with James Taylor, who is angered by this decision, but is calmed by Senator Paine.
Time goes along, Smith learns more about the Senate and its proceedings, and he even drafts his own bill. The location of his boys’ camp, however, is a problem for Jim Taylor and Senator Paine. It’s built on exactly the same location as a dam they’re trying to slip past in a certain bill to provide great profit to Taylor. Smith is pulled in to talk to Taylor, who tries to corrupt him and offers him any job in the state and longevity in the Senate without worrying about losing his job or having to fight for it a day of his life, but Smith denies him. Taylor pulls every string possible to crush Smith before he can disrupt the bill from passing, the wheels on his great political machine turning all at once and slamming Smith into the ground. The entire Senate is turned against him, and he is facing expulsion. At the Senate’s meeting where he was going to be expelled, he takes the floor first, and proceeds to lead over a twenty four hour filibuster. Only at the end, however, is he able to convince Senator Paine to do the right thing. Paine confesses everything after trying to kill himself and Smith’s career is saved. As this movie is based on our very own United States government, there are some obvious lessons to be learned and a clear portrayal of our government.
Firstly, this movie portrays government in several ways. The most obvious one is the arguing about semantics of bills and the sheer gridlock of the Senate. Gridlock is defined as This point is reinforced by Smith’s holding the floor at the end during his filibuster and refusing to release the floor and allow the bill to be voted on. Another point would be that of earmark spending and pork-barreling. Earmarking is when a certain provision is inserted into a bill, usually at the end, which gathers funds for a certain idea and has nothing to do with the bill itself and usually benefits only a small group of people. Once the bill is passed and the funds are acquired, it becomes a pork-barreled project. This point is reinforced by way of the dam that they attempted sliding into a deficiency bill for the state that Smith and Paine represent, which is also the main focus of the movie.
This movie's lessons applied to life then just as much as they do now, perhaps even more so due to the increased amount of pork barreling done today. Among these lessons is the act of fighting for lost causes, as those are often the ones that deserve the attention the most. In Smith's own words: "I’m going to fight for this lost cause!" This quote is actually what pulls Senator Paine to forgo the falseness and lies that Taylor had him put out, and he also attempts to kill himself before confessing the truth to the entire Senate. Also among the lessons is loving thy neighbor, meaning to respect and treat your fellow with the dignity and respect that you would want shown yourself. In all honestly, the respect and dignity shown to Smith by his fellow senators, and Senator Paine especially, is far under what they expected in return. The final lesson is simply to do what's right. Smith pushed through all the lies and promises of corrupt power to do the right thing. His determination shut down the Taylor political machine completely, derailing the entire goal single-handedly.
Naturally, a movie of this type was made to reflect characteristics of our own government. It succeeded. An outstanding characteristic, depicted throughout the entire movie, is that of corruption. A corrupt politician has the power to destroy individuals, and he cares not for the rules or laws of the land. Political machines are the absolute pinnacle of corruption in politics. Also shown is the practice of pork barreling, in which money as gathered for a project that usually benefits one or very few individuals. Also depicted in this film was quite a bit of infighting, though not even that of cross-party gridlocking. No, in this film it was of individuals fighting against other individuals with no party involvement whatsoever. In fact, political parties aren't really even mentioned in this film to begin with.
Concluding this essay, it could be said that all of the above is exactly what it is. This movie portrays our government by ways of corruption, pork barreling and gridlock. The lessons that are able to be gleamed from this film include, but are not limited to, fighting for lost causes, loving thy neighbor and doing what’s right. These lessons applied to government and life during the time this film was released, but also apply to current government and time. This film also reflects characteristics in our government, such as corruption, pork barreling and individual gridlocking, which doesn’t include political parties of any sort. This film would be an excellent reccomendation to those that are interested in seeing corruption of politics for what it truly is, and this film would also be an excellent addition to a government class of high school or perhaps a lower-level college course.
Still with me? Great, I'm glad you read through that. Unless you didn't, in which case I'm not. Either way, I hope I've conveyed my thoughts to you on this film, and I do hope you consider watching it sometime to educate yourself a little further on corruption.