Scenes That I Love: The Filibuster Scene From Mr. Smith Goes To Washington


Though some might find it hard to believe, I usually try to keep my personal politics separate from my film reviews.

If there’s anything that truly bothers me about critics like Roger Ebert and his kind, it’s that they often seem to be more concerned with promoting their own personal political views than with actually reviewing the film that they’ve just seen.  That’s why you find Ebert throwing a fit over a merely mediocre film like Atlas Shrugged while, at the same time, going out of his way to praise the ludicrous remake of Straw Dogs.  That’s also why you find a website like Awards Daily devoting a month to posts attacking a “documentary” like 2016 while, at the same time, praising the latest piece of propaganda from Michael Moore (often times before either one of the documentaries has even been viewed).

I won’t claim to be totally unbiased in my reviews.  I’ve always been open about the fact that 1) I’m a civil libertarian and 2) I view all politicians (including both our President and the majority of the people who ran against him in 2012) with a certain amount of disdain.  That said, for the most part, I try to set aside my own political beliefs when it comes to talking about the movies.  When I find that I can’t set those beliefs aside, I make it a point to be honest about my bias.

For instance, today’s scene that I love is a great scene from a great film.  But I’d be lying if I said that this selection had nothing to do with Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster about why the President (and, by that, I mean any President) does not have the right to blow up American citizens on American soil.  While I would hope that everyone understands that my opinion does not necessarily reflect that opinion of any other contributor to the TSL, I’m still not ashamed to admit that both me and my sister, the one and only Dazzling Erin, found the time to watch at least a few minutes of C-Span 2 yesterday and cheer Rand Paul on.

During Paul’s filibuster, a lot of people on twitter made the comparison between his filibuster and Jimmy Stewart’s filibuster in the classic 1939 film, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

However, the genius of Frank Capra’s classic look at one idealist trying to survive in a cynical world is that you can enjoy the filibuster scene regardless of whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, or Independent.  Whether you think that the comparison between Sen. Paul and Sen. Smith is fair or not, you can still appreciate the scene as an iconic moment in American cinema and as a reflection of the idealism that far too few of our current leaders seem to possess.

Without further ado, here’s the filibuster scene from Mr. Smith Goes To Washington…

Incidentally, just for the sake of humor, I also wanted to include the filibuster scene from Mr. Smith’s unnecessary 1977 remake, Billy Jack Goes To Washington.  Unfortunately, the Billy Jack version has not been uploaded to YouTube.  So, here’s the trailer for Billy Jack Goes To Washington.

(Billy Jack Goes To Washington, incidentally, proves just how important Jimmy Stewart was to the success of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.  The Billy Jack version is an almost shot-for-shot remake but, without Stewart’s likable sincerity, the story comes across as being so heavy-handed and preachy that you actually find yourself rooting for the members of the corrupt political establishment.)

6 responses to “Scenes That I Love: The Filibuster Scene From Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

  1. Very timely and apropos selection here! I’ll admit to having essentially zero respect for Rand Paul — i have a certain amount of respect for his dad, but Rand seems to be willing to sell out his supposed “libertarian” beliefs almost anytime, anywhere, and this is pretty much a showboating stunt on his part that he wouldn’t be engaging in a member of his own party were president and claiming the same dubious “right” to kill Americans without due process — but no matter how shrill and self-serving his motivations here are, he’s also, in this instance, absolutely right. It’s also done some good in terms of highlighting the hypocrisy coming from “both” sides in Washington — the Democrats, who are laregely remaining silent on Obama’s excessive power-grab here, would have been up in arms if Bush were doing this same thing, and the Republicans, who are now opposed to Obama doing this, didn’t mutter a word of protest in regards to all the Cheney-Bush executive power over-reaches that sett the stage for this cuttent one. So, weird as it is for me to support a guy like Paul who wants to outlaw all abortions even in cases of rape and incest, and who openly stated he wants to “modify” the 1964 Civil Rights Act to allow businesses to once again refuse to serve people based on race, gender, or sexual orientation — I do think he’s doing the right thing here, even if it’s only to make himself a “hero” to the Tea Party crowd and set the stage for a 2016 presidential run. I’ll say “Go, Rand, Go!” today, I guess, and go back to think he’s a racist, sexist blowhard tomorrow.

    To your larger point about about film critics mixing their politics with their cinematic reviews, I don’t have much problem with it as long as they’re upfront about it. Furthermore, I can certainly see a valid argument for somebody liking a Michael Moore flick and having no time for a “2016” that goes well beyond politics, as well. The fact is that the average Moore flick is just a better-executed piece of propaganda than is “2016,” simply because Moore has a knack for humanizing his subject and bringing it close to home while “2016” spends its time drawing weird extrapolations based on the author/host’s own psychology more than anything else. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Obama is hardly a “socialist,” he’s a guy who takes his marching orders from corporate America just like his predecessors, and anyone playing the “socialist/commie” angle is standing on pretty flimsy ground. D’Souza’s dog-on-a-bone tenacity in terms of trying to dig up dirt on Obama’s supposed “shadowy” past is also a bit McCarthyite and desperate.

    So, yeah — it’s certainly possible for a critic to like or dislike a Moore and feel the opposite about a work like “2016” without their own personal political views being a factor in their outlook vis a vis the films, but if their politics do enter into it, I personally don’t have a problem with that as long as they’re upfront about it from the get-go. We’ve all got our own political axes to grind, after all, and I don’t see why politics and art don’t mix. I just don’t like it when any given critic tries to claim their politics aren’t influencing their views on a film if it’s obvious that’s just not the case.


    • If anything, Rand Paul’s filibuster revealed something that everyone knows but which is never brought up in the mainstream media. The fact of the matter is that the majority of the liberal establishment and progressive activists have sold out at the altar of Obama. If George W. Bush (or, for that matter, John McCain or Mitt Romney) was President, you can be sure it wouldn’t have taken a bunch of Tea Party Senators to bring up this issue. It bothers me that most politicians — on both the right and the left — are only willing to do the right thing as long as their party isn’t in the White House.

      During the filibuster, we saw a bunch of right-wingers (and a few liberals with integrity, like Ron Wyden) standing up for civil liberties while a bunch of Democrats invoked 9-11 and all the usual scare tactics to argue for essentially allowing the President to do whatever he wants to do, regardless of whether it’s legal or not. I don’t think that’s what the majority of liberals were voting for when they first rallied around Obama back in 2008. The sad thing is that so many of these self-styled activists are so brainwashed by the cult of personality around Obama that the irony will be lost on them.

      Myself, I’m just tired of hearing that just because I support gay marriage and legalizing marijuana, that means that I also have to ignore the fact that Obama only pays lip service to those issues and that he, as you quite correctly pointed out, continues to take his marching orders from the same people who have always been in charge.

      As for Michael Moore, both he and D’Souza make films that are designed to appeal to people who already agree with them and therefore, I always find it humorous when people act as if Moore is a major player when it comes to the national debate or when they wonder if a film like 2016 could effect the next presidential election. 2016 and Moore’s “documentaries” are a lot like the President’s State of the Union speech. If you agreed with the film before you saw it, you’ll walk out still agreeing. And if you disagreed — well, chances are you won’t be watching to begin with.

      At the risk of revealing my own bias, I would argue that every criticism that could be made about 2016 could just as easily be made about Moore’s films but the difference is that most critics agree with Moore and disagree with D’Souza.

      Hence, last year, we had film critics who not only criticized D’Souza’s documentary but who literally seemed to be in a panic because somebody had actually made a film that was critical of Barack Obama. Critics — like a few of those over at AwardsDaily — did not talk about the film’s shortcomings as much as they just spent a few weeks going on and on about how treasonous it was that anyone could even possibly think to criticize Obama.

      Then again, in all fairness, this probably had less to do with them being liberal and more to do with the fact that they were members of the Cult of Personality that’s sprung up around Barack Obama. I imagine, for instance, that if Michael Moore had made a film that was just as critical of Obama from the Left, they would have attacked him with just as much fury as they did when they attacked D’Souza. Obama Worship has become its own political ideology, one that seems to based on a belief that the future of America is dependent upon repeating liberal catch phrases while doing nothing to make those catch phrases a reality.

      After all, the editor over at Awards Daily recently posted a long post in which she attacked Maureen Dowd (who, I don’t think, has ever been accused of being a right-winger) for daring to criticize Obama in her columns. And one need only consider just how confused a lot of people were by the fact that the recent film Killing Them Softly attempted to attack capitalism by, at the same time, presenting Obama’s speeches as an ironic counterpoint to the violence on-screen. The implication was pretty obvious, I thought, but there was something truly odd about watching various film bloggers attempting to rationalize how a film could be critical of both corporate America and Obama at the same time. (Needless to say, it didn’t seem to occur to anyone that the film was suggesting that Obama and corporate America are one in the same.)

      As for 2016, the overreaction of the Obama Cult, needless to say, actually inspired more people to see the film than would have otherwise. If they had focused on the criticisms that you had mentioned above, the film would not have been as much of a success. But since they allowed their own political biases (and their shock that the entire world doesn’t share their biases) to dominate their reviews, they ended up transforming 2016 from a piece of propaganda into a cause. Suddenly, it became the film that right-wingers had to see just because all of the left-wingers were having such a dramatic overreaction to it. To a lot of people, who probably would have waited to rent 2016 or maybe wouldn’t have had much of a reaction to the film at all beyond being happy that somebody was criticizing Barack, it became a case of: “Let’s see 2016 and make Rachel Maddow cry.”

      It’s the same thing that happens whenever Michael Moore releases a film and some right-wing commentator reacts by calling him an anti-American jihadist. In both cases, the criticism has had more to do with the political biases of the reviewers in question and less to do with the flaws and/or merits of the films themselves. As a result of the overreaction of critics led to these pieces of propaganda becoming financially successful films that didn’t actually succeed in doing much.

      (2016 made a lot of money but Obama was easily reelected. Fahrenheit 9-11 also made a lot of money and won top prize at Cannes but Bush was reelected and, nearly a decade later, we’re still following the same policy in the Middle East. Even An Inconvenient Truth hasn’t exactly inspired Al Gore to reduce his carbon footprint.)

      Then again, those politically-motived overreactions were probably what both Moore and D’Souza were hoping to get out of those reviewers. Controversy sells, as any grindhouse film student can tell you! 🙂


      • Oh yeah, controversy sells and always will, and if you don’t have any circulating around your film, the best thing you can do is create some! Like when Lloyd Kaufman hired :protesters: to picket oustide of theaters showing “Bloodsucking Freaks.”
        I’m not familiar with this Awards Daily website you’re talking about, but again, I’m hardly surprised at your description of its contents. Everybody’s got an axe to grind, and maybe it’s just because I’m older, but I basically expect a fair amount of hypocrisy from everyone at this point. You’re quite right that the average Obama-ite would be screaming bloody murder if Bush tried to exert his “right” to kill American citizens without any sort of due process, but it’s equally true that the same Tea Party-types who are up in arms about Obama claiming said “right” were dead silent when Cheney and Bush claimed one over-reaching executive power after another and paved the way for this current near-regal executive branch “authority” that we’re now all stuck with. I don’t know much about this Ron Wyden guy you mention, but he sounds alright to me. I’ll still take Bernie Sanders over any other Washington pol, though — and I notice he voted against Brennan yesterday for entirely the same civil liberties-related reasons we’re talking about.
        Where’s he from again? Oh yeah — -Vermont! Just had to throw that in there!


  2. Good article, and while I was a huge Ebert fan I do agree he went on some tangents that went above and beyond during some of his reviews, your examples being the most notable probably (should have saved it for the blog man). I discovered this article while doing a search for that very video clip since it was used in another review I was doing. I really, really need to go back and watch that movie. The world needs more Jimmy Stewart…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s