District of Cinema: From ‘Mr. Smith’ to ‘Exorcist,’ must-see movies set in DC

MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, Claude Rains, James Stewart, 1939
Claude Rains, left, and James Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939).

 

Judy Holliday, left, and William Holden walk down the Capitol steps on the House side in “Born Yesterday” (1950).

Advise & Consent (1962)
Directed by Otto Preminger
Shown from left (on set): Don Murray, Charles Laughton, Walter Pidgeon, (by camera) director Otto Preminger
“Advise & Consent” (1962) stars Don Murray, Charles Laughton and Walter Pidgeon walk as director Otto Preminger watches next to his camera. (Courtesy Mike Canning)

 

A fake White House protest is broken up by fake police in this still from “Seven Days in May” (1964).

THE EXORCIST, Max Von Sydow, 1973. (c) Warner Bros./ Courtesy: Everett Collection.
One of the most famous images from “The Exorcist” (1973) features Max Von Sydow standing in front of a house on Prospect Street in Georgetown. (Courtesy Mike Canning)

 

ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, 1976
This shot from “All the President’s Men” (1976) shows Dustin Hoffman, left, and Robert Redford leaving the Library of Congress. (Courtesy Mike Canning)

“First Monday in October” (1981) director Ronald Neame (on lowest step) prepares for a scene on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

BEING THERE, Peter Sellers, 1979, © United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection
That’s Peter Sellers walking on the median strip of North Capitol Street in this scene from “Being There” (1979). (Courtesy Mike Canning)

 

In this still from “Broadcast News” (1987), Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks chat on the steps of a Capitol Hill town house.

IN THE LINE OF FIRE, Clint Eastwood, 1993, ©Columbia Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection
Clint Eastwood is involved in a rooftop chase in “In the Line of Fire” (1993). (Courtesy Mike Canning)

 

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MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, Claude Rains, James Stewart, 1939
Advise & Consent (1962)
Directed by Otto Preminger
Shown from left (on set): Don Murray, Charles Laughton, Walter Pidgeon, (by camera) director Otto Preminger
THE EXORCIST, Max Von Sydow, 1973. (c) Warner Bros./ Courtesy: Everett Collection.
ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, 1976
BEING THERE, Peter Sellers, 1979, © United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection
IN THE LINE OF FIRE, Clint Eastwood, 1993, ©Columbia Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

WASHINGTON — If you’re a fan of movies — new and old — you’ve probably seen “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” but what about “Being There” and “Slam?”

All these movies were set in D.C. and are among those recommended by local film critic Mike Canning, who has a soft spot for movies actually filmed in the nation’s capital.

Canning, who’s been reviewing movies for the Hill Rag newspaper for more than 20 years, is author of “Hollywood on the Potomac: How the Movies View Washington, D.C.”

His all-time favorite Washington movie? “All the President’s Men” (1976).

“It tells a wonderful Washington story beautifully and very effectively, full of suspense and tension. And it uses Washington locations almost better than any other film, which is something I favor in Washington movies,” Canning said.

In another of Canning’s favorites, “Seven Days in May” from 1964, Kirk Douglas plays a Marine Corps colonel. The director wanted to do some filming at the Pentagon, couldn’t get permission, but went ahead anyway.

“They literally parked on the main street outside of the Pentagon and just sent Kirk up onto the steps. And the cameraman very clandestinely followed him,” Canning said.

“The cute thing was that while Douglas was walking down in his full uniform, he was saluted a couple of times. They included it in the film,” Canning said.

“Advise & Consent” (1962), a film by director Otto Preminger, has an interesting back story.

“He wanted to offer Dr. Martin Luther King — at that time becoming a major national figure — a cameo role as a U.S. senator from Georgia, even though there weren’t any African-American senators at the time,” Canning said.

According to the director, King turned the offer down because he thought the reaction to his involvement in the movie would interfere with his cause.

“It would have been an intriguing element to the film, but it didn’t happen,” Canning said.

“Being There” (1979) includes Canning’s favorite shot from a Washington movie: Peter Sellers’ simple-minded character walking on a median strip in the middle of North Capitol Street with cars zooming and the Capitol building looming.

“While silly as it is, it’s actually perfect because it’s the only place a guy this dense would end up. So I think it’s exquisite,” said Canning.

Canning thinks “No Way Out” (1987) contains the most ridiculous “goof” of any D.C. movie. In one scene, Kevin Costner runs into a Metro station that doesn’t exist in real life — similar to Kevin Spacey at the Cathedral Heights station in “House of Cards.”

“Him running into a Georgetown Metro, which was famously not a stop on the Metro, was just a hoot. One guy threw his popcorn at the screen; it was so hilarious,” Canning said, who saw the movie with his wife when it came out.

More fun facts:

  • “Broadcast News” (1987) was shot almost entirely at D.C. locations. The scenes that involved a TV set and newsroom were filmed backstage at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia.
  • Canning recommends “Slam” (1998), an independent film that he said was the only movie ever to shoot inside the D.C. Jail. It features then-Mayor Marion Barry playing a D.C. judge.
  • Watch the most famous scene from “The Exorcist” (1973) closely. “The fall down the staircase was aided by a dark 1-inch padding on each of the steps,” Canning said.


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