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Is MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON sexist?

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I just finished watching MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, and a few things about the Frank Capra-directed classic bother me. And I feel the need to vent about it. I hope you forgive me if my writing is a bit more stream of conscious today. What follows is a rough draft of thoughts I wanted to get down while the movie was still fresh in my mind:

 

First, the scene that threw me for a loop was the one where Jimmy Stewart gets schooled by Jean Arthur about the ways our government works. It's hard to believe that even the most naive simpleton did not get some basic civics course in high school, or that he could not go to the local library and look up a few things when he was appointed to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate. The fact of the matter is that Arthur's character, a woman, knows more about the government and its processes than Stewart, a man. Clearly, she is ten times more qualified than him, yet he is the one who gets to be Senator? I know, I know, the goons (played by Edward Arnold, Guy Kibbee and Claude Rains) want an idiot in the seat so they can manipulate him. But why doesn't Arthur or the other women like her fight for the job themselves?

 

As if that is not enough, Capra and screenwriter Robert Riskin keep hammering the point that Stewart can get a bill passed for a law that would benefit a boys scout-type group. This is repeated several times, and we even see a throng of clean cut all-American boys in the Senate chamber on the day that Stewart is trying to introduce the bill. They, of course, applaud him enthusiastically. Never mind the fact that there are no girls in attendance-- they simply were overlooked or not invited. And why couldn't Stewart introduce a bill that would benefit both boys and girls in America? There are long speeches where he talks about boys in nature, and how they need to know the way our government works. Again, aren't girls allowed to know that, too?

 

The sexism of this movie becomes increasingly apparent when you realize that there are no women on the Senate floor. And none are seen even as extras in crowd scenes involving politicians. Surely Arthur's character cannot be the only woman in the nation's capital. The filmmakers give the impression that the boys club is running Washington while the female sex is back at home preparing dinner.

hattiecarawayportrait.jpg

I looked up a list of female U.S. Senators on wiki (see the link below). The first woman senator was appointed to fill a vacancy just like Stewart's character, back in-- wait for it-- 1922. Granted, she was only in office for 24 hours (presumably so they could find a man to take the job full-time), but by 1931 a woman from Arkansas named Hattie Caraway became the first fully elected lady senator, a position she held until 1945. 

 

Ms. Caraway was not the only female elected to the Senate in the 1930s. The year Columbia Pictures made MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, there were three other women in the Senate. So that's four women who should have been seen in the Senate chamber scenes of this film. But they are not there, not even on the sidelines or in the background. 

 

Just for the heck of it, I looked up whether or not there were women in the House of Representatives at this time. And from 1917 to 1939, there were 23 congresswomen serving in that capacity. One woman was an elected member of the House from 1925 to 1960. So there is no reason for Capra and Riskin to make it seem like there are no females in the legislative branch of our government in 1939.

 

I am not saying this film necessarily had to be called MISS SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, but there is way too much gender bias in this film. And I don't see the purpose of it, unless the goal is to show that women do not have any say in our way of life in America. Doesn't that just seem wrong to you? I think it does.

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A key plot point was that Stewart's dad use to a close friend of the senior Senator (the character played by Rains).   This is the main reason Stewart was appointed the job.    This type of inside connection,  especially in small states, is fairly common for appointed Senators.    Of course the 'bad guys' felt they could also control an appointed junior Senator.

 

Yea, I guess Capra could have use the daughter of someone with connections and have them appointed Senator.   But to me that would have distracted from the main message of the film;  corruption in DC.     Adding the additional social issue of the lack of female Senators would have muddled the corruption theme.    The film pushes it message enough as it is,   so I don't think it would have been enhanced by having an additional message.

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Is MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON sexist?

imgres7.jpg

I just finished watching MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, and a few things about the Frank Capra-directed classic bother me. And I feel the need to vent about it. I hope you forgive me if my writing is a bit more stream of conscious today. What follows is a rough draft of thoughts I wanted to get down while the movie was still fresh in my mind:

 

First, the scene that threw me for a loop was the one where Jimmy Stewart gets schooled by Jean Arthur about the ways our government works. It's hard to believe that even the most naive simpleton did not get some basic civics course in high school, or that he could not go to the local library and look up a few things when he was appointed to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate. The fact of the matter is that Arthur's character, a woman, knows more about the government and its processes than Stewart, a man. Clearly, she is ten times more qualified than him, yet he is the one who gets to be Senator? I know, I know, the goons (played by Edward Arnold, Guy Kibbee and Claude Rains) want an idiot in the seat so they can manipulate him. But why doesn't Arthur or the other women like her fight for the job themselves?

 

As if that is not enough, Capra and screenwriter Robert Riskin keep hammering the point that Stewart can get a bill passed for a law that would benefit a boys scout-type group. This is repeated several times, and we even see a throng of clean cut all-American boys in the Senate chamber on the day that Stewart is trying to introduce the bill. They, of course, applaud him enthusiastically. Never mind the fact that there are no girls in attendance-- they simply were overlooked or not invited. And why couldn't Stewart introduce a bill that would benefit both boys and girls in America? There are long speeches where he talks about boys in nature, and how they need to know the way our government works. Again, aren't girls allowed to know that, too?

 

The sexism of this movie becomes increasingly apparent when you realize that there are no women on the Senate floor. And none are seen even as extras in crowd scenes involving politicians. Surely Arthur's character cannot be the only woman in the nation's capital. The filmmakers give the impression that the boys club is running Washington while the female sex is back at home preparing dinner.

hattiecarawayportrait.jpg

I looked up a list of female U.S. Senators on wiki (see the link below). The first woman senator was appointed to fill a vacancy just like Stewart's character, back in-- wait for it-- 1922. Granted, she was only in office for 24 hours (presumably so they could find a man to take the job full-time), but by 1931 a woman from Arkansas named Hattie Caraway became the first fully elected lady senator, a position she held until 1945. 

 

Ms. Caraway was not the only female elected to the Senate in the 1930s. The year Columbia Pictures made MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, there were three other women in the Senate. So that's four women who should have been seen in the Senate chamber scenes of this film. But they are not there, not even on the sidelines or in the background. 

 

Just for the heck of it, I looked up whether or not there were women in the House of Representatives at this time. And from 1917 to 1939, there were 23 congresswomen serving in that capacity. One woman was an elected member of the House from 1925 to 1960. So there is no reason for Capra and Riskin to make it seem like there are no females in the legislative branch of our government in 1939.

 

I am not saying this film necessarily had to be called MISS SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, but there is way too much gender bias in this film. And I don't see the purpose of it, unless the goal is to show that women do not have any say in our way of life in America. Doesn't that just seem wrong to you? I think it does.

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_the_United_States_Senate#List_of_female_senators

What that Wiki entry doesn't mention is that the first time a female Senator gained a seat entirely on her own wasn't until Nancy Kassenbaum of Kansas was elected in 1978.  Prior to that, every one of them was a temporary appointment to fill in a vacancy, often caused by the death of her husband. 

 

It is true that in addition to Caraway, two of these appointees, Margaret Chase Smith (R-Maine) and Maurine Neuberger (D-Oregon), went on to get re-elected and serve distinguished careers.  Smith in particular was often known as "the conscience of the Senate" for speaking out against her fellow Republican Joe McCarthy. 

 

But I don't think that with regard to sexism, the Capra movie did any more than reflect the realities of the time.  The four women in the Senate in 1939 had little or no real influence, and other than Caraway, no seniority at all.  They were seen as fill-ins and nothing else.  The Senate pages back then were strictly boys, unlike today, and very few if any women worked as senior staff members.  And even women reporters like Arthur were somewhat of an anomaly, though not unheard of.  As James Brown would have put it, it was a Man's Man's world.

 

My problem with Mr. Smith was that it was nothing but pure fantasy in terms of its cornball resolution, but then it's a movie, not a documentary, and it was so obviously far removed from political reality that I doubt it would have fooled anyone at the time.  It had about as much relationship to the real U.S. Congress as Rocky had to the real world of boxing.

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My problem with Mr. Smith was that it was nothing but pure fantasy in terms of its cornball resolution

 

You mean that crooks and bad guys don't actually dissolve into tearful guilt-ridden sobbers all of a sudden in real life?

 

I'm pretty sure if the movie had had a realistic ending - Smith carried out followed by business as usual in the Senate - the movie would not have been allowed to be seen.

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You mean that crooks and bad guys don't actually dissolve into tearful guilt-ridden sobbers all of a sudden in real life?

 

I'm pretty sure if the movie had had a realistic ending - Smith carried out followed by business as usual in the Senate - the movie would not have been allowed to be seen.

 

Well, sure, but one of my favorite bits of parody was the one in Trump magazine (Playboy's answer to Mad) which  depicted a typical Hollywood barroom brawl if it'd taken place in the real world of the frontier West.  I think it came under the title of "Scenes We'd Like To See", and now that I think about it, it may have been in Mad itself.  I think Jack Davis was the artist.

 

In any case, in the Hollywood version, they use balsa wood chairs and the hero always lets the good guy draw first.  "Code of the West" or some sort of nonsense like that. 

 

But in the Trump (or Mad) version, the villain whacks the good guy upside the head with a chair made out of real wood, and leaves him there in the sawdust with a possibly fatal concussion, with little birdies tweeting over his head.

 

And then a week later, when the villain isn't looking, the good guy gets out of bed and drills his worthy opponent in the back.

 

Now that's my kind of Western!

 

And in a real life version of Mr. Smith, Edward Arnold would have planted a few phony cropped photos of Jimmy Stewart in flagrante delicto with a Senate page boy, Robert McCormick would have had his Chicago Tribune fact checkers authenticate them, and that would have been that for Mr. Stewart.

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Is MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON sexist?

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The fact of the matter is that Arthur's character, a woman, knows more about the government and its processes than Stewart, a man.

 

 

I think it would be much MORE “sexist” if Arthur had been the bungling, dumb, young Senator, with Stewart as her educated, wise, and astute young assistant.

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Well, sure, but one of my favorite bits of parody was the one in Trump magazine (Playboy's answer to Mad) which  depicted a typical Hollywood barroom brawl if it'd taken place in the real world of the frontier West.  I think it came under the title of "Scenes We'd Like To See", and now that I think about it, it may have been in Mad itself.  I think Jack Davis was the artist.

 

In any case, in the Hollywood version, they use balsa wood chairs and the hero always lets the good guy draw first.  "Code of the West" or some sort of nonsense like that. 

 

But in the Trump (or Mad) version, the villain whacks the good guy upside the head with a chair made out of real wood, and leaves him there in the sawdust with a possibly fatal concussion, with little birdies tweeting over his head.

 

And then a week later, when the villain isn't looking, the good guy gets out of bed and drills his worthy opponent in the back.

 

Now that's my kind of Western!

 

And in a real life version of Mr. Smith, Edward Arnold would have planted a few phony cropped photos of Jimmy Stewart in flagrante delicto with a Senate page boy, Robert McCormick would have had his Chicago Tribune fact checkers authenticate them, and that would have been that for Mr. Stewart.

 

Well Andy, the idea that ANY fistfight depicted in ANY movie and not just the western genre is shown as two guys STANDING toe-to-toe and hauling off and CONNECTING with the face of their opponent over AND over again for minutes at a time, isn't "exactly" based in reality EITHER, ya know!

 

(...nope, as almost ANY bar fight in REAL LIFE is usually headed on the ground and with the two combatants grappling at and wrestling with each other within just a few minutes after it commences)

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First, the scene that threw me for a loop was the one where Jimmy Stewart gets schooled by Jean Arthur about the ways our government works. It's hard to believe that even the most naive simpleton did not get some basic civics course in high school, or that he could not go to the local library and look up a few things when he was appointed to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate. The fact of the matter is that Arthur's character, a woman, knows more about the government and its processes than Stewart, a man. Clearly, she is ten times more qualified than him, yet he is the one who gets to be Senator? I know, I know, the goons (played by Edward Arnold, Guy Kibbee and Claude Rains) want an idiot in the seat so they can manipulate him. But why doesn't Arthur or the other women like her fight for the job themselves?

 

 

 

But note that Arthur's character and her pals in the press that know so much about the way Washington works have bought into the corruption represented by Arnold's character. This is the way it works, and this is the way it is. Capra has set it up so that Stewart's character has to be a naive simpleton to think that he could ever change anything.

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Funny, it seems like yesterday this thread's title was "Is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Sexist?"

 

Be that as it may.

 

When it comes to Studio Era movies, if by "selling out in the end" you mean "endings that are so contrived and counter to everything that went before it", then it's almost harder to find movies that didn't sell out than ones that did.  Of course the production codes mandated these phony endings, so in a way you can't really blame the filmmakers.

 

The ones that did "sell out" are way too numerous to mention, but maybe the most laughable one (IMO) was The Postman Only Rings Twice, with John Garfield acting almost as if he were caught up in the Rapture as he goes contentedly to the electric chair.  It made the "Rocky Dies Yellow" ending of Angels With Dirty Faces seem like a documentary by comparison.

 

And even in the pre-code era, there were more improbable weddings and other "happy endings" than you could ever hope to count.  The 1931 Possessed, Heroes For Sale, Wild Boys of the Road, The Story of Temple Drake, etc., etc., the list goes on and on and on. About the only notable exceptions were Red-Headed Woman (Harlow must have been sleeping with the censor for that one to make it through) and I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang.

 

And on the other side, where the ending we're all rooting for gets truncated and replaced by a disappointing finish, there's Gentleman's Agreement, where Gregory Peck somehow returns to Dorothy McGuire in spite of the fact that Celeste Holm is so much more in sync with everything he seems to stand for.   OTOH Anne Revere's (Peck's mother's) comment about how she plans "to stick around for a long time" was about as stirring and soul-satisfying a final note as anyone could ever hop for, so I'd give other part of the ending a pass.

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Wow TB! I couldn't disagree more with your premise that Serling's PATTERNS "cops out" at the end or somehow the ending isn't congruous with all that preceded it.

 

Nope, ya see the reason I've always thought the piece succeeds as a whole is actually because of how it ended, and with Heflin telling the feisty Sloane that yeah, he'll TAKE the job BUT is going to fight the old man tooth and nail while holding it. I believe THIS ending was somewhat an inspired one by Serling, as I thought he COULD have just written the ending with the "villain" of the piece Sloane, getting his "just desserts" by being forced out somehow and then everyone "works happily ever after", OR that he just walks away from it and giving the impression to the audience that he's "the bigger man" and end of story. 

 

I also think the ending of the story as it exists contributes to the thought that the audience then will wonder what happens to these characters after the ending of the story, as something which was done in some of the most notable films ever made and in which there was no "pat" ending.

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Re: MOVIES THAT SELL OUT IN THE END

 

'Red River' (1948)

 

Why do I get the feeling that Wayne probably insisted on that ending - over a far more dramatic and plausible one?

 

I can just hear him bellowing "I'm not gonna be the bad guy at the end, g--dammit!"

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I think we ALL know that perhaps the biggest "cop out" ending is in Hitchcock's "Suspicion".

 

(...talk about "And they lived happily ever after" AFTER what all precedes in THAT one, EH?!)

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Movies that sell out in the end

 

Any movie that ends with the protagonist waking up from a dream, revealing that the entire film was a dream, i.e. a hoax.

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Movies that sell out in the end

 

Any movie that ends with the protagonist waking up from a dream, revealing that the entire film was a dream, i.e. a hoax.

 

Hmmmm....would this include any movie that features some kind'a "yellow brick road" in it???

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Well, yes, I do agree that it is good there is no pat happy ending. But I would like to have seen a section of film after Begley's gone, where Sloane tries to manipulate Heflin and Heflin is tested the way Begley was...it needs to come full circle somehow. It can still have an ambiguous ending, but we have to see Heflin either regret his decision to stay or get some sort of sick sadistic pleasure staying and fighting Sloane. We are robbed of a greater pay-off here. 

 

 

Yeah, maybe, but as I earlier stated, as it now stands I found it to be satisfying enough in regard to leaving the audience think up their own final resolution to how these two characters might have ended up, and in my case hoping with the "good guy" Heflin eventually "vanquishing" the "villain" Sloane, though the cynic in me thinking Sloane would prevail.

 

(...and thus once again, the very reason I like Serling's ending...it leaves "food for thought" as the final credits roll on-screen)

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Definitely, it provides food for thought. I think that since it is called PATTERNS, we should see the pattern repeating itself at the end-- either Heflin is thrown into Begley's position and becomes just like him, or else we flashforward and see that Sloane has been dethroned and Heflin is like him. The patterns should repeat with Heflin playing a part in it, since he's decided to stay.

 

Good point...about the reason for the story's title that is. Still think though that the ending as it is now isn't necessarily a "cop out" in the sense that it somehow contradicts all that is previous shown, and which was your initial premise here I believe, TB.

 

(...nope, as even with this valid point you've just made, I think the "worst" that could be said about it is that MIGHT not present its story to some "logical" conclusion, and something of which I personally appreciate seeing occasionally done in some films, as it leaves a little something to mull over later on)

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Andy,

 

I wasn't exactly referring to the production code.

 

And I wasn't referring to Patterns.  That's a movie I vaguely remember liking, but remember too vaguely to call up the ending.

 

Anyhoo, I think that most Studio Era dramas, corporate or otherwise, more or less followed the (literal) spirit of the sardonic endnote to Brecht's Threepenny Opera, where the Queen pardons Macheath at the last second and bestows upon him "the title of Knight of the Garter, a castle at Mucking on the Creek. Sussex, and an annual pension for life of 10,000 pounds to the day of his death".  This lovely Deus ex machina ends with a classic coda:

 

Happy ending, nice and tidy

It's a rule I learned in school

Get your money every Friday,

Happy endings are the rule.

 

So divide up those in darkness

From the ones who walk in light

Light 'em up boys, there's your picture

Drop the shadows out of sight.

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Funny, it seems like yesterday this thread's title was "Is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Sexist?"

 

 

It was.

 

Apparently TopBilled has been changing the title of this thread every day, so it is difficult to find our old posts and conversations on this thread that had a different title in the past.

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PREVIOUS TITLES OF THIS THREAD:

 

Movies that sell out in the end

Is MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON sexist?

Tyrannosaurus multiplex

Cars of the stars

Lucy's movie star encounters

Hollywood Christmas pictures

Movies within movies

Best use of Technicolor: not GONE WITH THE WIND?

Classic dialogue and scenes that slipped past the censor

Stars' own favorite films

When you lower your opinion of a film after you read others' reviews

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