James Stewart received his first Oscar nomination for portraying recently selected Junior Senator Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.
James Stewart plays Jefferson Smith an old fashioned, well meaning, upright citizen, and a head of a local chapter of a fill in for the boy scouts called the boy rangers. He is chosen as the man to fill in for a senator who suddenly died, because political machinists headed by Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) believe he will just be too simple to see through their schemes, and will be easy to manipulate. I really like Stewart's enthusiasm in his early scenes as Smith, Stewart really is simply perfect for the part as Jefferson Smith. He is perfectly the man he plays, and truly is an actor who was perfectly cast. I actually also liked Stewart because for me he is one actor who can play down the sometimes corny nature of scenes incredibly well. This is because for me I do not think he ever plays it unnaturally and can help even incredibly forced scenes feel much more natural.
He goes along to Washington and is pressured, bothered by many aspects of the Washington scene, but also intrigued by Democracy in action. I think handles the mix of emotions very well. I like his downright honest enthusiasm to see the monuments, and to be an actual United States Senator. He also when meeting the women of Washington, Stewart has the perfect awkward aw shucks. It is the usual Stewart romantic lead reactions, and actions, I do really enjoy them when they add to part of his overall performance. I think a particularly strong scene showing the usual Stewart charm that only Stewart ever had was when he is writing his Bill for a special camp for his Boy Rangers with his secretary Saunders (Jean Arthur). The way Stewart maneuvers himself in this scene is just perfect in that perfect Stewart way that I enjoy a whole lot.
His strongest scenes though is when he introduces his bill. He first introduces his bill, and Stewart is simply great in his manner of Smith's nervousness. But his bill causes him to see find out about a dark side of Washington involving a political machine. Smith is about to be rejected from the Senate on trumped up charged. Stewart's early enthusiasm is properly drained out in these scenes that really show that Smith can barely comprehend that such people could be so bad, and that his Senior Senator (Claude Raines) really was just a stooge the whole time. To prevent from being kicked out Smith starts a filibuster in an attempt to prove his innocence and to reveal the political machine in control. This final part of his performance is what makes it so memorable. Stewart is simply brilliant in his scenes of moving along and along trying to fight for his right, and slowly becoming more and more tired. Stewart is masterful in my opinion, especially in his brilliant final speech that holds true power, that is needed for the ending to succeed which I believe it does very well. I find this performance has the right amount of power, and charm throughout that supports the idea that 1939 is one of if not the greatest year in film.