As the new year begins and a Trump presidency comes closer to becoming a reality, I couldn’t help but think of the climactic scene from one of my favorite Frank Capra movies “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”. Frank Capra was one of the great filmmakers of the 1930s and early 1940s.
Frank Capra was a conservative Republican. But during the 1930s he was an open minded man who collaborated with more liberal screenwriters to produce his many classic movies. Robert Riskin, the screenwriter of It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, You Can’t Take It With You and Meet John Due, was for instance a New Deal liberal. Sid Buchman, the screenwriter of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, was an American communist. So Capra’s films were a mixture of both progressive and conservative values.
Capra and his left wing screenwriters were deeply concerned about how to uphold our American democratic values and community in the face of a great economic depression, a fascist threat in Europe and demagoguery from the likes of Huey Long and Father Coughlin. When Sid Buchman wrote Mr Smith Goes To Washington, he wanted to depict the wide gap between America’s high ideals and the way our country falls far short of those ideals. Buchman crafted speeches for Mr. Smith arguing for activists to fight for causes even if those causes seem hopeless. Both Buchman and Capra wanted Americans to fight for our country to live up to its high values.
In Buchman’s day, the causes he fought for were for organizing workers, ending the lynching of African Americans, and creating a more just economic system. Though some of today’s causes are different, I think Frank Capra and Sid Buchman’s film still has great resonance today.