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Mr. Smith stays home.

Mr. Smith stays home. (photo)

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In these troubled times, with both left and right factioned against themselves, you’d think more angry politics would be up there on screen. Wasn’t this supposed to be the most significant economic downturn since the Great Depression?

In the ’30s, the screen was full of visions of riot and turmoil — sometimes as farce, but often with deadly seriousness. “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” was the logical culmination of a series of films in which inefficient blustering and cynical corruption were the status quo.

Americans no longer have the same intense feelings about Congress as they did then, maybe because we know way too much about the mechanisms that drive American politics. Constant TV coverage means instant analyses of every last speech and campaign gesture — it’s no longer possible to be suspicious but uninformed (unless, you know, you want it that way). maybe that’s why the Naughts haven’t produced anything like the headache-inducingly strange political films of the ’30s.

The “Mr. Smith” sub-genre goes like this: A man — either naive or uninterested — comes to the capital, discovers rot and does something about it, over strenuous protests, frequently by means of dubious legality. Two films I’d group in this category are also among the stranger ones I’ve ever seem. There’s 1933’s “Washington Merry-Go-Round,” with Lee Tracy as a man who heads up to D.C. to do the people’s business. After spending some time hectoring soldiers striking for their bonus pay as lazy leeches, the whole thing culminates in a happy ending — with [SPOILER] the forced finishing of a corrupt lobbyist, surely the only time a pressured suicide has qualified as a happy ending.

02252010_gabriel.jpg“Gabriel over the White House,” from the same year, is just as nutsoid with a higher death-count. Indifferent, do-nothing lackey Judson Hammond has an auto accident while in office and becomes possessed by God. This leads to some quick changes: the army takes over, bootleggers are shot and God’s work is generally done with crypto-fascistic efficiency. He’s FDR on speed.

There are many other films like this that are even harder to see, like 1939’s “Rovin’ Tumbleweeds,” where singing cowboy Gene Autry manages to get flood control legislation passed, or 1933’s straightfowardly titled “Corruption” and 1932’s “The Washington Masquerade,” in which Lionel Barrymore redeems himself in front of an investigative committee.

In the ’30s, it seems, we could only bear so much reality. The corruption was a given, the means of vindication a total fantasy. After WWII, the cycle stopped, and political movies since have focused on the failings of specific politicians (mostly in the Nixonian mold) or campaigns. No longer would bright, colorful reformers come to Washington and win — we know too much.

[Photos: “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” Columbia, 1939; “Gabriel Over The White House,” MGM, 1933]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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