It is known that Alben W. Barkley, a Democrat and the Senate Majority Leader, called the film "silly and stupid", and said it "makes the Senate look like a bunch of crooks". He also remarked that the film was "a grotesque distortion" of the Senate, "as grotesque as anything ever seen! Imagine the Vice President of the United States winking at a pretty girl in the gallery in order to encourage a filibuster!" Barkley thought the film "showed the Senate as the biggest aggregation of nincompoops on record!"
Pete Harrison, a respected journalist and publisher of the motion picture trade journal Harrison's Reports, suggested that the Senate pass a bill allowing theater owners to refuse to show films that "were not in the best interest of our country". That did not happen, but one of the ways that some senators attempted to retaliate for the damage they felt the film had done to the reputation of their institution was by pushing the passage of the Neely Anti-Block Booking Bill, which eventually led to the breakup of the studio-owned theater chains in the late 1940s. Columbia responded by distributing a program which put forward the film's patriotism and support of democracy and publicized the film's many positive reviews.
Other objections were voiced as well. Joseph P. Kennedy, the American Ambassador to Great Britain, wrote to Capra and Columbia head Harry Cohn to say that he feared the film would damage "America's prestige in Europe", and because of this urged that it be withdrawn from European release. Capra and Cohn responded, citing the film's review, which mollified Kennedy to the extent that he never followed up, although he privately still had doubts about the film.
The film was banned in Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy, and in Franco's Spain. In the Soviet Union, the film was released to cinemas in December 1950 as The Senator. According to Capra, the film was also dubbed in certain European countries to alter the message of the film so it conformed with official ideology.
When a ban on American films was imposed in German occupied France in 1942, some theaters chose to show Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as the last movie before the ban went into effect. One theater owner in Paris reportedly screened the film nonstop for 30 days after the ban was announced.
So, for those on the inside, there was a lot to hate. For people who didn't have their reputations on the line, the film's message was more positive—despite a corrupt representation and a duplicitous press, the ideals of a government "of the people, by the people, for the people" working to "form a more perfect Union" was still a good idea, a revolutionary idea, and...an evolutionary idea...rejecting the Divine Right of Kings (or Tyrants) and putting the power of governing into the hands of the governed...as Jefferson Smith explains in his "babblings."
I'm going to keep that in mind this entire election year, despite the babblings of ones such have been displayed in the last three weeks of "Scenes". Or the babblings I see on the other screens of my life. Remember the spirit of the law, not the transient arguments trying to despoil or subvert that spirit.
"And I feel fine."
Just look for H.V. Kaltenborn!