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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Review

For Families provided by Common Sense Media

OK for kids 8+

Classic pits Jimmy Stewart against government corruption.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this classic gem from 1939 includes lots of smoking (cigarettes, pipes, cigars) consistent with the era and some drunkenness. Even though much of the movie takes place in Senate chambers, there are still a few violent moments including a gun shot, paper boys punched and nearly run down by goons, and the main character punching crooked reporters. Punching aside, the titular Mr. Smith is an otherwise great role model, holding onto his strong convictions even when it seems like everyone is against him. Kids will not only get to see the Lincoln Memorial but learn a bit about how the Senate operates and see a filibuster in action.

  • Families can talk about the difference between compromise and corruption. Do politicians have to do some bad things to make other good things happen? Is Mr. Smith a realistic character?
  • Families can also talk about the difference between being honest and being smart -- and what's more important to them. Saunders says that "all the good that ever came from this world came from fools." What does this mean?
  • Jeff gets slammed by the unscrupulous press and fights back -- with his fist. Would the media treat him the same today? How is the press the same? How is it different now? How would CSPAN and the Internet have helped Jeff Smith's cause?

The good stuff
  • educationalvalue true4

    Educational value: Viewers will learn about how the U.S. Senate operates, what a filibuster is, and even see old printing presses in action. Parts of the Declaration of Independence are read during the filibuster and the main character frequents the Lincoln Memorial.

  • message true5

    Messages: Loaded with reminders of the importance of honesty, believing in yourself, standing up for what's right, knowing the difference between compromise and corruption, and that liberty and the freedom of speech are precious. It's also worth noting that African Americans are seen as porters and paper boys in this classic movie, but a black man is also seen standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, hat off and deeply moved by where he is.

  • rolemodels true5

    Role models: Jefferson Smith stays true to who he is -- an idealistic and honest man, and quite a patriot. When he's faced with corruption he calls a man a liar to his face, gets almost everyone against him, and is saved by his strong character and force of will.

What to watch for
  • violence false1

    Violence and scariness: A light shatters after a gun is fired and there's a struggle -- gun not shown. Jeff punches a bunch of crooked reporters. Mentions of past death and violence. In a montage, young boys distributing papers are hit by goons, a car with boys in it and a wagon carrying papers are hit by trucks on purpose, and marchers are hosed down by police.

  • sex false1

    Sexy stuff: Flirting, declarations of love, and a drunken "let's get married."

  • language false0

    Language: Just dated and innocent exclamations like, "Great saints!" "You're all wet," and "Stop having kittens."

  • consumerism false0

    Consumerism: Not an issue

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false3

    Drinking, drugs and smoking: Lots of smoking -- cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and chewing tobacco -- by members of Congress and the press. Saunders gets drunk and almost gets married in the same night. More drinking in bars and in Senator Paine's home.