Mr. Smith Goes to Washington appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. An up and down transfer, the end result was satisfactory but no better.
Sharpness seemed adequate. The movie never looked especially soft, but it also failed to display terrific definition. As a result, the film usually appeared reasonably concise but not stellar. Jagged edges and shimmering stayed minor, and edge enhancement was minimal.
Source flaws created a few distractions. The movie came across as rather grainy much of the time, and a few defects crept into the image. I noticed occasional specks and marks. These remained modest.
Blacks tended to be a little too dense. Dark suits lacked definition, and other elements failed to deliver similar detail. Shadows offered decent clarity, at least, as low-light shots appeared acceptably smooth. Though Smith wasn’t a terrific visual experience, it seemed perfectly acceptable.
I thought the movie’s monaural soundtrack was similarly decent. I don't expect a whole lot from a 60-year-old soundtrack, and this one pretty closely matched what would seem to be average for the era. Dialogue seemed intelligible and showed good definition despite some thinness. The music appeared generally trebly and light, and effects also lacked heft.
All of these elements remained in keeping with material from 1939. The track seemed cleaner than usual, at least, as I noticed no problems with hiss, noise or other interference. Overall, the audio stayed fine for its era.
How did the picture and audio of this 2006 DVD compare to those of the original 2000 DVD? Both showed some improvements. The audio seemed crisper and smoother, while visuals appeared tighter and cleaner. Neither area blew away the old DVD, but they showed decent growth.
Smith offers a few supplemental features, all of which come from the prior DVD. First up is a running, screen-specific audio commentary from director’s son Frank Capra Jr. He discusses how family tragedy prompted his father to launch this project as well as aspects of its development. We hear about research in DC, sets and locations, cast, characters and performances, other production notes, the film’s impact and reactions to it.
Capra’s commentary for It Happened One Night was a stinker, but this track proves fairly successful. Capra gets into many interesting issues such as Jean Arthur’s negative reputation on the set. A moderate amount of dead air mars the piece – especially during the film’s third act - but at least it boasts good content overall.
We get more of the same during Frank Capra, Jr. Remembers... Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. This eleven-minute and 49-second piece seems somewhat superfluous since it could have been easily integrated into the commentary. The younger Capra discusses his father’s interest in the story and its themes, cast, characters and performances, and the film’s enduring appeal.
The content doesn't duplicate much of that heard during the commentary, but it still seems like a waste of video space; they easily could have spliced his statements into the commentary track and not bothered with this. “Remembers” is decent on its own, however.
In addition, the film's trailer appears. The Vintage Advertising section provides 12 different promotional graphics for the movie.
As part of “The Premiere Frank Capra Collection”, we get an extensive booklet. This piece covers Washington along with four other Capra flicks and different aspects of his career and life in the 1930s. It comes with a mix of photos and other archival materials along with good information. It acts as a quality component.
This disc drops a few minor extras from the original release. It loses trailers for It Happened One Night and Lost Horizon as well as talent files for Capra, James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains and Edward Arnold and a booklet with brief but informative production notes.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington deserves a guarded recommendation. The can be a bit corny but it’s rousing in its earnestness. The DVD provides acceptable picture and audio plus a few decent supplements. This acts as a reasonably positive rendition of the film.
Note that this release of Mr. Smith currently appears only as part of “The Premiere Frank Capra Collection”. This set also includes It Happened One Night, American Madness, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, You Can’t Take It With You, and a documentary called Frank Capra’s American Dream.