In exactly one month my political romance Special Interests will be released! Until then, I want use fine romance Friday to feature some of my favorite on-screen political romances. First up is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Frank Capra’s 1939 political confection is famous for many things: its contribution to “Hollywood’s greatest year,” its idealistic and appealing take on American patriotism, and its sequence in which the titular Mr. Smith stages a filibuster on the floor of the US Senate. But I’d offer that it’s also successful as a romance.
First the set up! The governor of an unnamed state taps Boy Ranger-leader Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart) to fill a sudden Senate vacancy. (The state is unnamed, but I think it’s supposed to be Missouri.) In Washington, now-Senator Smith is shown the ropes by his only staffer, the tough-talking, smart, and completely cynical Saunders (Jean Arthur).
Smith falls under the spell of his state’s senior senator (Claude Rains) and his pretty, worldly daughter (Astrid Allwyn), which is precisely what the governor intended. However, Smith, who believes deeply in a fairy tale version of American governance, doesn’t follow the rules and introduces a bill to create a national boy’s camp in his state–putting him in the cross-hairs of the state’s political machine. When he won’t pull the bill, they accuse him of corruption and Smith finds himself fighting for his career.
The key to Smith’s success is Saunders. The sweet romance that develops between them is gang busters. In terms of tropes, it’s opposites-attract and workplace-set, but I like it as a very rare example of an innocent, idealistic hero paired with a tough, sardonic heroine. For all his dewy platitudes about country, Smith doesn’t know how to get things done, but Saunders does.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington might not be a terribly accurate take on government, then or now, but I do love the movie and cry during the Lincoln memorial scene every time. The 1930s footage of Washington is also terrific.
Until you can read Special Interests, this is one political romance worth a rewatch!