We’re guessing John Oliver isn’t a fan of Turner Classic Movies.
In a segment on filibuster reform on Sunday’s “Last Week Tonight,” Oliver showed a clip of James Stewart in the classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and made fun of his grandstanding performance from the climax of the movie.
“He was a bad actor,” Oliver said before taking a swipe at Old Hollywood. “They were all pretty bad back then, but he was especially bad.”
If you haven’t seen “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” it’s a 1939 drama from Frank Capra starring Stewart as a naive, wholesome junior senator who is elected based on his noble values, only to come face-to-face with the cynicism and corruption that’s rampant in American politics. It all culminates with Mr. Smith taking a big stand by desperately filibustering for hours on the Senate floor until he becomes so impassioned and exhausted that he collapses.
It’s a rousing scene, but it’s also a cliche, as Oliver rightly noted, in that movies and TV tend to characterize the filibuster as a “heroic” act in which a senator talks endlessly. Of course, as Oliver spells out for the duration of the segment’s 19 minutes, that’s hardly how the filibuster is used today in the Senate. Incredibly, you don’t even have to actually stand up and talk endlessly to do it.
Regardless of what Oliver thinks of the movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” was nominated for both Best Picture and for James Stewart as Best Actor, for 11 Oscar nominations in all.
Check out Oliver segment on filibusters above.