best film:  The answer is Shane but Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is not far behind.  This category, overall, is a weakness for Arthur, but there is depth here as Howard Hawks Only Angels Have Wings is not a terrible number three (if you blink you’ll miss her in Buster Keaton’s Seven Chances so it is hard to really count that).



best performance:  Her accomplishment in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is closer to Jimmy Stewart’s than she often gets credit for. Her Saunders character is wise to the world and the driving force of the narrative. She goes toe to toe with Stewart (both Capra alums even at this point in 1939) and even steals her share of scenes. Her scenes with the scenery-chewing master Thomas Mitchell are some of the strongest in the entire film.



Mr. Smith Goes to Washington here with Arthur opposite Stewart. At her best, Arthur could trade barbs with a prime Jimmy Stewart and peak Cary Grant. Mr. Smith was one of three Capra films for Arthur in the late 1930s.



stylistic innovations/traits:   Arthur was a fast-talking comedic talent who is indispensable in two of Hollywood’s Golden Years’ best films: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Only Angles Have Wings. She had three great collaborations with Frank Capra and worked with Wilder and Hawks, too- playing one of the greatest of Hawks’ legendary women of strength. She retired with Shane in 1953 (having only made two total films since the end of World War II) and went out on top.



Jean Arthur in Howard Hawks’ 1939 film Only Angels Have Wings. This was Hollywood’s big year as well as Arthur’s big year with both this film and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.



directors worked with:    Frank Capra (3), George Stevens (2), Buster Keaton (1), Billy Wilder (1) and Howard Hawks (1). Arthur collaborated with some of the great comedic minds in cinema working during her era.



top five performances:

  1. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
  2. Only Angels Have Wings
  3. Shane
  4. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
  5. You Can’t Take It with You



archiveable films

1925- Seven Chances
1936-Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
1938- You Can’t Take It with You
1939- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
1939- Only Angels Have Wings
1942- The Talk of the Town
1948- A Foreign Affair
1953- Shane