The Distinguished Gentleman
The rise and fall of a congressman, in two parts. He is a con man working a fairly small but advanced form of chantage, phone sex leads to a badger but he arrests the lot, the victim wonít testify, buys them off. The real money is in politics, the con manís equilibrium easily sustains a campaign and a stint in office, where they throw money at you.
He meets a girl, sober and intelligent, also very beautiful, she works for a group called Pro Bono on child safety, imported toys are her issue. Her uncle is a congressman of decency and insight, also a minister of the gospel, a great man and completely ineffectual, just as his niece is wonderfully out of her depth, both are so earnest.
The vision appears in his office, a constituent and her ailing daughter, power lines by the schoolyard have done this, she believes. The vision continues as a cabdriver ogling hookers smashes the reverendís car with the con man inside, both are drunk, the driver is the con manís public liaison, the phone sex girl. A leak destroys the elder congressmanís vexed drive for ethics reform, which is why he got drunk.
The con man has a stable of colleagues staffing his office to work the con of his election and term, they now brush off the big con. The girl he loves is ďmard of sinnersĒ and a babe in the woods, her uncle means well, the con man is what he is and also is in power. He makes a deus ex machina of the President supposedly flexing his muscles against the EPA for action, this brings the moneybags to the Chairman of the Power and Industry Committee for a confab, the con man claims in hearing to have videotaped this, another confab, the tape is seized and played, itís the phone sex commercial, he is taping their recriminations. This is played in the hearing room before press and public, not before the con manís rap sheet is paraded, a small thing by comparison. The chairman resigns, up to his ears in corruption and slander, he leaked the car crash to destroy an enemy, he faces jail. The con man is thrown out, he considers a run for the Presidency.
This is well-studied from Capra, the perfect congruency of camera and action comes from the revealed portrait of the first President in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Character is revealed but does not alter, action reflects a consciousness determined by that revelation. There is a calculated prťcis of Seatonís Teacherís Pet in the uncle and niece, and like so much else this is not said but shown, in the elastic surrealism of the mother and daughter. The other congruency of con man and politician is disturbed like the pond of Narcissus, another face appears.
The freshman congressman is provided with an administrative assistant to show him the ropes whereby he may hang himself (the Harvard Freshman Congressmenís Seminar is an extension of this), courtesy of the Chairman. Order is lost in the hearing room finally, Capra has his presiding legislator toss up the gavel. The inevitable debt to Capra is repaid by the fineness of the insight and the sureness of the realization. The screenplay and direction give the actors a perfect venue, the touching central idea is as simple as Vonnegutís pol, the one who thought Peter Pan was a washtub in a whorehouse (there is an element of The Candidate and Bashōís haiku, ďtiny red pepper / put a set of wings on it / look a dragonflyĒ).