James Stewart’s delightful performance as a naïve country boy Jefferson Smith contrasts deliciously with Jean Arthur’s city girl Clarissa Saunders. Mr. Smith, a boys’ club leader, is chosen to replace a fallen politician. Political boss Jim Taylor, played by Edward Arnold, decides Smith is the perfect choice because of his lack of political savvy. The plan is to keep Smith naïve and ignorant while corrupt deals are made all around him.
Being a man of conscience and a true hero, Smith takes his job seriously and attacks real goals with passion and strength. Of course this gets him into trouble. Smith must have help from his assistant, but Jean Arthur’s Saunders is weary of the political scheming and tries to quit her job during the first part of the film.
I loved the moment Saunders recognizes that Smith has mentioned her first name to his mother. Since everyone calls her Saunders, hearing his mother call her Clarissa stood out like a kiss on the cheek.
Mr. Smith awakens her to a new look at life, and her renewed fervor is key to the story.
Lewis R. Foster won the Oscar for Best Writing, Original Story. This film was nominated for ten other Oscars, including Best Picture.
This classic should be watched before every July Fourth and before every election. I also think every high school class should visit the Lincoln Memorial and read every word there. Mr. Smith seemed to be energized there. Would it have the same effect on our children?