1939, TSPDT Rank #387
This genuinely inspiring film by the great Frank Capra seems at first glance that it would be way too sentimental to bear - but it's not. It's about the idealistic leader of a nationwide group called the Boy Rangers (played by James Stewart) who is brought into Washington, expected to play by the rules of the corrupt government officials, but instead stands up for what he believes in. It is actually just as sentimental as it sounds, but the subtle trick of the script (which imitators of the film have usually failed to use in their efforts) in the underlying tone of cynicism and sarcasm which counters the sentimentality and gives the film a much-needed balance of tone. The other element that makes this film work all these years later is James Stewart, whose performance is one of the most sincere and impassioned of all time. It's hard to imagine this movie still being held in such high esteem if Gary Cooper, the first choice to play the title role, had been cast. But as it is, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a true classic that still feels fresh and watchable, despite its faults (i.e. the annoying kids), as well as a perfect summation of all of Capra's main cinematic trademarks up to this point in his career.