The classic Mr. Smith Goes To Washington was released in 1939. I’d like to suggest an idea for a 75th anniversary remake, which could be ready in time for a 2014 release.
The idea of remaking Mr. Smith was lampooned on The Simpsons once, where it was a stand-in for the current rash of updated old movies and TV shows, the majority of which are terrible. In The Simpsons’ spoof, Mel Gibson stars in the remake and the climactic scene doesn’t have Senator Paine confessing and Smith emerging vindicated, but Smith whipping out a tommy gun and running amok as he slaughters Congressmen left and right.
So the concept of making a new Mr. Smith is touchy, but I think it’s something our country needs, and something that would be important and do well. My updated story looks like this:
It starts off basically the same, with Smith appointed junior Senator to replace the deceased Senator Foley. However, in the original, Smith was a leader of the “Boy Rangers,” because the Boy Scouts of America wouldn’t give permission for their name to be used. I think now, with membership and revenues dropping, they might be more open to cooperating. They could use the good press. So in my version, Smith is a Scoutmatser.
Also in the original, Smith is automatically ridiculed by the elite media for being a simple guy from outside the big city. They mock his naive optimism and reverence for the nation’s heritage. In the 21st century, that would pretty much play out the same way. Think Sarah Palin.
One of the two biggest areas of updating, though, would be the nature of Smith’s bill and subsequent scandal. In 1939, Smith wanted the government to buy some land for a “Boy Ranger” camp that the boys themselves would pay the government back for. However, that same land was part of a fat public works contract that Senator Paine had agreed to give his political boss, Jim Taylor, so Taylor has Smith framed for trying to make a profit on land that he allegedly already owned himself.
Certainly Senators still push through legislation that favors their constituents and donors (check out some of the pork in that big stimulus package), but graft is kind of a cliche, and probably not a hot button topic anymore. I suggest making Taylor an executive with an environmentalist advocacy group, who wants to make that a federally protected preserve for an endangered species (which we later find out is an obscure bug), but which will create massive profits to line his own pockets, what with tourists and attractions which will inevitably destroy the land anyway, ironically.
Yes, I see Taylor as a limousine liberal. I also think it would be worth pointing out that the Scout camp would do more to actually conserve that land than Taylor’s massive “park/preserve” would, either.
The other big change would need to be in the conflict leading up to the climax. In the original, as public opinion starts to be swayed by Smith’s passionate filibuster, Taylor has henchmen actually bully Boy Rangers and ruin their newsletters. Today’s film would need to be more sophisticated. As a blackout would be impossible, Taylor would need to launch an immediate smear campaign: the mud about Smith and his family would need to be splashed around, insults would need to be hurled at the Boy Scouts, Smith would have to be painted as an anti-environmentalist who helps corporations exacerbate global warming, etc.
The major news networks could be shown reading the same press releases as “news” about Smith, while talk radio champions him, and web sites and blogs would battle it out. A great moment could be the New York Times running a dramatic anti-Smith headline as we see presses pumping out endless copies and exhilarating music plays, then we see stacks of them sitting in newsstands, untouched and ignored by passers by.
A desperate Taylor could get Paine to implement an emergency gag order to prevent pro-Smith outlets from airing their views (a Fainress Doctrine reference, perhaps?). Maybe C-Span could be manipulated or even shut down somehow.
The ending, of course, would be exactly the same. Smith reads from the Constitution and the Bible and then lectures the Senate on integrity, making more than one pointed reference to our Founding Fathers.
Yes, this is a conservative film, but America needs to see someone like Jimmy Stewart slipping away from his jaded entourage to tour the monuments of Washington, D.C. and stare up at them in reverent awe. Today’s tour could include the WWII Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial. This isn’t necessarily a pro-Republican film, but America wants to see a movie where pompous environmentalist hypocrites and the biased media get what’s coming to them.
And they want to see a movie where decency, honor, and tradition are valued. And where America is the good guy.