Images of America

A Social and Historical Look
at America Through the Movies

Study Guide - Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Director : Frank Capra

Stars :
Jean Arthur .... Clarissa Saunders
James Stewart .... Jefferson Smith
Claude Rains .... Sen. Joseph Harrison Paine
Edward Arnold .... Jim Taylor
Thomas Mitchell .... Diz Moore
Harry Carey .... The Vice President

Preparation :
Read the movie reviews at

Historical/Social Significance :
The film caused some controversy and pressure was brought to bear to hinder its release (two months after the outbreak of WWII in Europe), due to the fact that Capra's film as propaganda, depicted political corruption, and appeared to paint an anti-democratic picture of the US government.

Useful in showing how things in Congress work, particularly in developing a bill and filibustering.

Synopsis :
Jefferson Smith goes to fill in a term in Washington for Senator from his state who died. When he gets there it isn't what he expected.

Guided Questions for Viewing :

Assessment questions will be based on the following :

  • Some people think this is really a movie about the transformation of Clarissa. Comment on this transformation as the movie goes on.
  • Discuss the Senator Payne character from the movie. Do you think he was really an evil person?
  • "..every politician is presented as an idiot or corrupt." Do you think this statement is true about the movie?
  • Do you think this movie was un-American? Make reference to the movie in your answer.
  • Do you think the corrupt things that were happening in Washington in the movie were an exaggeration that could never really happen?

Dirks, Tom. "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington".

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