Mr Smith Goes To Washington (1939) ***


Only Capra could pull this sort of thing off, and great as Gary Cooper is as Mr Deeds and John Doe, it’s questionable if even Capra could have put this one over without James Stewart’s immense likeability in the central role.
It also benefits from the director's skills (both symbolically handed down to Preston Sturges) in confidently juggling extreme changes in mood from broad comedy to poignancy, and assembling a supporting cast in which every face holds the viewer's eye, and every tiny role leaves an echo behind. With Stewart, Jean Arthur and Claude Rains are likewise on top form, but they are supported all the way down by rock solid support.

Actually, as with a lot of Capra’s later work, the first half is a touch too leisurely, the last ten minutes too rushed, and tidied up with a slightly anti-climactic ease. But this is quibbling compared to the stunning effect of the final scenes in which Jimmy, hoarse, exhausted but unbroken, continues to make his stand for what he calls “a little looking out for the other fella”. Stewart's honest everyman persona was never put to a sterner test, but the outcome remains inevitable.