Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Columbia). Last week U. S. audiences, smiling in anticipation, trooped into movie houses to see smart Director Frank Capra repeat his Mr. Deeds Goes to Town in a Boy Scout uniform and a Senator's ten-gallon hat. What they saw was just as funny as Mr. Deeds, but it did not leave them smiling.
Thirty-year-old, baby-eyed Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) is head of the Boy Rangers, and a simpletonian Democrat. His fuzzy ideas make Governor Hopper (foxy-grandpopsical Guy Kibbee) and Political Boss Taylor (Edward Arnold) think Jeff the ideal Senator to cover up their graft.
Appointed, Jeff arrives in Washington with a crate of carrier pigeons and a flock of unfledged ideas. First is to hop a rubberneck bus, inspect Daniel Chester French's noble statue of Lincoln. But when his hardboiled Secretary Saunders (Jean Arthur) tells him why the gang sent him to Washington, dumbellicose Jeff really goes to town on Boss Taylor. Framed on misconduct charges, Jeff filibusters all night by reading to bored, sleepy Senators from the Declaration of Independence, .the U. S. Constitution, the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. At dawn he wins.
This new Capra fable is as whimsical, the Capra directing as slick, the script as fast and funny as in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. The acting of the brilliant cast is sometimes superb. But Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is bigger than any of these things. Its real hero is not calfy Jeff Smith, but the things he believes, as embodied in the hero of U. S. democracy's first crisis, Abraham Lincoln. Its big moment is not the melodramatic windup, but when Jefferson Smith stands gawking in the Lincoln Memorial, listening to a small boy read from a tablet the question with which this film faces everyone who sees it: "Whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure." The question, not the answer, makes Mr, Smith Goes to Washington much more than just another top-rank Frank Capra film.
Hollywood Cavalcade (20th Century-Fox) is a rather tiresome Technicolored sentimentalizing of Hollywood history under the guise of a love story about a cap-backwards movie director and a star with doorknob eyes. But it contains two silent, black & white remakes of oldtime flicker comedies, complete with piano banging, which make this picture a must for people who appreciate the art of plastering the human face with custard pie at 30 paces.
For this nostalgic peep backward by Hollywood at its age of innocence, 20th Century-Fox studios appropriated $2,000,000, took more than three months for shooting, built 80 sets (average for a feature is 40), replaced the 1913 custard pie with a new-style, squshier, stickier, whipped-cream pie, summoned oldtime Pie-slinger Buster Keaton to hurl 56 of them; called in Mack Sennett, Chester Conklin, Jed Prouty, many another old-timer to impersonate themselves, resurrected Keystone Cops* and Bathing Beauties, the bewitchingly crossed eyes of Bartender Ben Turpin. Many a fan sat twice through the heartthrob antics of 1939 to see the side-splitting antics of 1913.