Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Jefferson Smith bringing sense to the Senate.

“There’s a lot of fancy words in this town.”

1939 was just a good year for movies. Two beloved classics, Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz (both of which we’ll get to later), were released in this year. However, there was another gem to come out of ’39: the dramatic, powerful, unabashedly patriotic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

When Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart pair up, you can’t go wrong. A subject that might seem slightly dull on the outset is instantly illuminated by the professionalism and expertise of both the director and the leading man. While by modern definition the film isn’t epic, it is certainly powerful. Brace yourself for a cliché: they just don’t make ’em like they used to.

Although politics are considerably more aggressive now than they were in ’39, the topic was just as popular and controversial in those days. Capra pulls it off with grace, and the undeniably likable Stewart just increases the appeal. There are some surprisingly profound lines concerning Washington, corruption, patriotism, and the country itself.

However, Mr. Smith is not entirely solemn and somber. There are actually some priceless comedic moments, thanks to the awkwardness of our beloved Jimmy. The chemistry between Stewart and Jean Arthur is also fantastic.

As I’ve further familiarized myself with his filmography, I find that Jimmy Stewart can display a rather wide range of emotions. In Shenandoah, he’s a crusty, disagreeable Virginia landowner, who experiences terrible loss. In The Philadelphia Story, he’s a hilarious, awkward tabloid reporter. But in Mr. Smith, he’s an idealistic small-towner who just wants his voice heard. He plays all three of these characters to perfection.

Synopsis

I could talk forever, but I suppose I should give you the synopsis now. Sorry.

Naive Jefferson Smith (Stewart), leader of the Boy Rangers, is appointed to the Senate on a lark by the vacillating, malleable governor of his state. He is reunited with the state’s senior senator–presidential hopeful and Smith’s childhood hero, Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains). In Washington, however, Smith’s expectations are soon depleted by the harsh reality of politics. He discovers many of the shortcomings of the political process as his earnest goal of a national boys’ camp leads to a conflict with the hateful state political boss, Jim Taylor. Taylor first tries to corrupt Smith and then later attempts to destroy Smith with a scandal.

Information

Check this out:

Directed by Frank Capra;

Written by Lewis R. Foster (story), and Sydney Buchman (screenplay);

Starring James Stewart as Jefferson Smith, Jean Arthur as Clarissa Saunders, and Claude Rains as Joseph Paine;

Produced by Frank Capra;

Music by Dimitri Tiomkin.

*sigh* Awesome.

Facts

Apparently, real politicians are rather offended by this movie. Hee hee. A Montana senator walked out of the screening he attended in disgust. It’s also been bitterly denounced by Washington insiders because of its accusations of corruption.

With this in mind, it was banned in most of Europe’s fascist countries, because it “showed that democracy works”.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was Jean Arthur’s favorite film of her own.

Jimmy Stewart knew that the role of Jefferson Smith was the role of a lifetime. Therefore, he worked extremely hard, waking up at five o’clock and driving himself to the studio. According to costar Jean Arthur, “He was so terrified something was going to happen to him, he wouldn’t go faster.”

Jean Arthur did not get along with Jimmy Stewart very well during filming, because she wanted Gary Cooper (who costarred with her in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) in the role of Jefferson Smith.

Something I just noticed: neither the Democratic nor the Republican parties are ever mentioned in the film.

Jean Arthur’s left side was considered her best side, so the sets had to be constructed in a way that whenever she entered, she would be photographed on that side. Just like Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca! For the record, I like Ingrid Bergman’s best side best.

-luke

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High Society (1956)

Bing and Grace

Bing and Grace make a great couple.

“My dear boy, this is the sort of day history tells us is better spent in bed.”

One of my personal favorites, High Society is an essential film. Based on The Philadelphia Story, which was made sixteen years earlier, it is a textbook example of why the trials and complications of love and attraction make for great comedy.

This film occupies a special place in my heart, not to mention movie history. There is nothing especially spectacular about the film’s production, or even about the content itself. It didn’t have a multimillion dollar budget, no car chases, not even a single, solitary explosion. There were no uproars about this film, no controversy, and it didn’t spark a nationwide rebellion. Rather unimaginable, isn’t it?

One of the reasons I love this movie: it’s fun. Very few movies arrive at the theaters nowadays that are purely guiltless fun. This is a movie you’ll watch with a smile on your face. At least, I did. The chemistry in this film is the highlight; I wish modern actors worked together as well as these. The film is part screwball comedy, part tender romance, part whimsical musical (with the legendary Louis Armstrong leading many of the songs).

I may go into a bit of info about each main actor in this film. Don’t worry, it won’t take to long. However, I feel obligated. It is my duty, as a patriotic citizen, to inform you of the history of the legends that populate this film. Here we go…

Bing Crosby, who began entertaining in the 1920s, enjoyed a career as one of the most successful male vocalists of all time. His is said to be the most electronically recorded voice in history. But he wasn’t just a singer. He’s acted in close to 80 movies, implanting in each his mellow, cool-cat attitude and his legendarily smooth and disarming voice. In two words: HE’S AWESOME.

Frank Sinatra started his solo career in ’42, instantly becoming a superstar. And it’s easy to see why. As one of the most talented singers/actors in the history of popular American music (and rival to Crosby), you can understand why having him in this film brings it up a notch. And the movie contains a duet. Yes, Bing and Frankie singing…together! As if this wasn’t reason enough to watch it…

*grand, whimsical music begins with a flourish* Grace Kelly! Yes, Princess Grace of Monaco, in her last film before becoming…well, Princess Grace of Monaco. In fact, the engagement ring she wears in High Society is the ring given to her by her then-fiancee, Prince Rainier of Monaco. Grace Kelly is not exactly the greatest actress in movie history. Come to think of it, she’s one of the finest examples of overacting in film…but she does it with such grace (pun intended).

You probably know Louis Armstrong from the song, “What a Wonderful World”. The following fact is one that everyone needs to know: HE PLAYED AND SANG SONGS BESIDES “WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD”. There. I’ve said it. Your mouth drops open in shock. But it’s true. And he displays some of his best jazz know-how in High Society. ‘Nuff said.

Synopsis

Now that I’ve put you to sleep, here’s what you’re actually reading the article for.

Firstly, High Society is a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story (1940), which starred Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, and Katharine Hepburn. We’ll be watching that later on, but I much prefer High Society.

C.K. Dexter-Haven (Bing Crosby), a successful jazz musician, lives in a mansion near the estate of Tracy Lord (Grace Kelly), his ex-wife. Egads! She’s about to enter a marriage with a stuffy, snobby social-climber, George Kittridge. The problem: Dex is still in love with Tracy. And Tracy may just be pondering her feelings about Dexter, too. Throw in the mix Mike Connor (Frank Sinatra), a tabloid reporter sent to cover the Lord-Kittredge elopement, who inevitably catches Tracy’s eye. Tracy must decide between these three men when she realizes that “safe” can indeed mean “dreary” when it comes to love and life.

Information

Directed by Charles Walters

Written by Philip Barry (play on which it was based) and John Patrick (screenplay);

Starring Bing Crosby as C.K. Dexter-Haven, Grace Kelly as Tracy Samantha Lord, Frank Sinatra as Mike Connor, and Celeste Holm as Elizabeth Imbrie;

Produced by Sol C. Siegel;

Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter.

Now that is a crew.

Facts

The popular ABC game show is named after Sinatra’s and Celeste Holm’s duet, “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”.

The incredible song “Well, Did You Evah?” (from a previous Cole Porter musical) was added at the last minute when it was realized that there wasn’t a song for Bing and Frank to sing together.

This was Grace Kelly’s last film before retiring from acting (to become Princess Grace of Monaco).  *sobs*

Although she is a main character, Grace Kelly doesn’t sing a solo. She has a duet (“True Love”) with Bing Crosby, but that is the only time she sings in the film.

Elizabeth Taylor was originally set to play for the part of Tracy Lord; however, she was unavailable, so the part went to Kelly. As I’m sure I’ll say many times in my writing, thank goodness for that.

-luke

City Lights (1931)

Chaplin as the Tramp

The beautiful end scene.

I didn’t necessarily want to start with a theme… But, why not? It’s Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air.

I was carefully pondering what the perfect first recommendation could be. I had an innumerable amount of films from which to choose. But, then it hit me: Charlie Chaplin. It really is the perfect movie. I’d hate to use the phrase, “tour-de-force,” but City Lights really does have everything. I won’t say it’s Chaplin’s best film, but it certainly is a work of art. Although it is, at heart (pun intended), a romance, there are heavy doses of hysterically funny slapstick to keep the guys awake. Perfect date movie, I’d say. Enough schmooze for the girls, enough uproarious mishaps and missteps to entertain the guys.

But, really, it’s a very powerful story of truly unconditional love (what Valentine’s Day was originally all about). And it’s the perfect starter silent film. For those of you who haven’t seen a silent film, prepare to be amazed. You don’t believe someone can tell an intelligible and even compelling story without using dialogue? Watch the master at work.

Be sure to comment and tell me your opinion of the film!

Synopsis

Chaplin plays the iconic, clueless Tramp, who meets a beautiful blind girl who is selling flowers on the street. Because of a coincidental event (cleverly orchestrated by Chaplin) she mistakes the homeless Tramp for a wealthy duke. The Tramp, obviously, immediately falls in love with the girl. When he learns that a miraculous new operation could restore her sight, he becomes unwaveringly determined to somehow attain the needed money. In a series of absurd, hilarious events, the Tramp eventually acquires the money and gives it to the blind girl. However, sadly, his noble efforts land him in the slammer. While he’s confined, the girl goes through with the operation which is successful. She yearns to meet her benefactor, her “dream prince”. After the Tramp is released, he meets the girl once again, and in one of the most emotional, beautiful scenes in movie history, she realizes the true identity of her dream prince.

Information

Listen to this example of supreme control:

Directed by Charles Chaplin;
Starring Charles Chaplin as A Tramp and Virginia Cherrill as A Blind Girl;
Produced by Charles Chaplin;
Music by Charles Chaplin.

I bet he had a headache or two in his day.

Facts

As you may have known, the first sound picture, The Jazz Singer, was released in 1927. Practically from that day on, silent film has been a thing of the past. Chaplin was pressured by almost everyone around him to make a sound picture. And he did… partly. City Lights has a wonderful score, composed by Chaplin himself, and he brilliantly uses sound effects to enhance the already superb comic effect.

Screen and stage giant Orson Welles said that City Lights was his favorite movie of all time.

The scene in which the initial meeting of the Tramp and the flower-girl takes place was re-shot 342 times. Chaplin, for those of you who did not know, was a bit of a perfectionist.

At one point in production, Chaplin and costar Virginia Cherrill became engaged in a spat. They were already on unfriendly terms; Chaplin had often criticized Cherrill for being unprofessional. When this argument occurred, he fired Virginia Cherrill on the spot. He auditioned Georgia Hale, who was his costar in The Gold Rush. But the film was too far in production to make a dramatic change like this. So, Cherrill agreed to return to the film–at double her original salary. Chaplin reluctantly agreed and the film was completed. Thank goodness for that.

-luke