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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington screenplay

The complete screenplay of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with script notes.

The Script

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Screenplay (PDF).

Script notes

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a hopeful, charming, optimistic look at the political values of the USA. It has central messages including:

  • There are impossibly decent people out there
  • One person can make a difference
  • People can change, no matter how corrupted they may seem
  • The 'litle guy' can beat the 'big guy'

Jefferson Smith, our hero, is almost a caricature of a good man. He's beloved by the children to whom he devotes his life, he's brave, kind and self-effacing to a fault. He is representative of a city-dweller's vision of what a small-town American could be, perhaps should be. He is dropped into the cauldron of Washington politics by a combination of unusual circumstances and, maybe, because he will be too rural, too isolated to interfere with the corrupt plans of Taylor, a businessman who buys and sells politicians.

The rest of the film is devoted to showing that he actually understands much more than everyone thinks. It is actually the corrupt corporates and politicians who need to receive a lesson in the vision of American democracy that Smith espouses, one taken directly from Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, probably plenty of other people called Thomas.

Through Smith's eyes we see both the Capitol as it is, and as it should be. For him, every corrupt deal, every backroom agreement is an unforgivable betrayal of the legacy of Washington and Lincoln, a legacy that to Smith is sacred, bought with blood and tears.

While that may be what the film's about, and it's an excellent watch, it is a very unusual script for its day. Firstly it contains a magnificent role for a woman who is neither wife nor mother to the central lead. Remember this film was made when the world was still black and white, active female roles were not that common. Saunders, the woman in question, proves to be Smith's ally in Washington and she becomes this through spending time in his company, realising she has become corrupted, part of the problem. She is gripped by Smith's vision of Washington and she changes her outlook to support him.

There's another strange thing about this script. Generally a powerful script is about the journey the protagonist undertakes, during which he develops the knowledge, allies and especially changes himself to be ready for the conclusion. Jeff Smith does find allies and he certainly learns about the way Washington functions, but it is his lack of changing, despite the pressures around him that defines his second act. Time after time people try confusing, tricking, bribing, cajoling Smith to corrupt him. Eventually they even frame him for corruption in an attempt to get him expelled from the senate. His jaw set, trusting in the words of great Americans who preceded him, Jeff stands like a lighthouse in the swell. He is an immovable bulwark of honour.

"More intensity!"

George Lucas