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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, photograph from The F. & M. Schaefer Brewing Co.,1959

Director Frank Capra’s 1939 classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, starring Jimmy Stewart, was one of the works selected for the National Film Registry. In the movie, Stewart played a young United States senator who made an impassioned speech against entrenched corruption. In 1988 Stewart––in real life––made an impassioned speech in Congress against film colorization.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, photograph from The F. & M. Schaefer Brewing Co.,1959

Preserving American Films

Congress took action to preserve classic American films in 1988, after the Turner Entertainment Company announced it would “colorize” classic black-and-white movies purchased from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). After major Hollywood actors and directors led a public outcry, Congress investigated the issue and passed the National Film Preservation Act. The act established the National Film Preservation Board and the National Film Registry and restricted colorization of landmark films. The National Film Registry, administered by the Library of Congress, comprises films designated for preservation because of their cultural significance.

It makes me mad. . . . The scenes were washed away in a bath of Easter egg dye. The tinting obscured the nuances of expression and character that actors work so hard to create on film.

Jimmy Stewart, Letter Presented at Senate Hearing, 1987