Too bad for presidential hopes of banker T.K. Blair; his party feels he has too little flair for savoir faire. But at a medicine show, the party bosses find Blair's double: huckster Doc ... See full summary »
Too bad for presidential hopes of banker T.K. Blair; his party feels he has too little flair for savoir faire. But at a medicine show, the party bosses find Blair's double: huckster Doc Varney. Of course, they scheme to make Varney T.K.'s public spokesman; at first, he even fools Blair's girlfriend Felicia, providing a romantic complication. As election eve approaches, the conspirators face the problem of what to do with Varney...who has difficult decisions of his own to make. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The portraits that provide a prologue for the movie and sing about the problems of the country during the Depression are of the same four presidents (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Rossevelt) that are on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota that was being carved at the time this movie was released. See more »
I'm just trying to figure out which one of us looks the most alike.
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THE PHANTOM PRESIDENT (Paramount, 1932), directed by Norman Taurog, stars Broadway legend George M. Cohan (l878-1942) playing a dual role in his talkie debut and, to the best of my knowledge, his only existing movie. As Theodore K. Blair, he is a serious-minded candidate who hopes to win the upcoming election as the next president of the United States. He is in love with Felicia Hammond (Claudette Colbert), who finds him rather dull. Later Blair's cronies who also find Blair to be dull and witless, come across a medicine show barker named Peter Varney who not presents himself in public as likable and full of fun, but happens to be the spitting image of Blair. In order to boost Blair's upcoming election win to the White House, they hire the entertainer to impersonate him, but the plan works out only too well when not only the public starts to favor Varney, but Felicia also, causing the jealous Blair to want to do away with this look-alike by hiring some tough sailors to kidnap Varney and take him unharmed to the Arctic circle.
Aside from this being a double showcase for George M. Cohan, it is Jimmy Durante (in his pre-baldness days) as "Curly" Cooney, Varney's partner and sidekick, who comes off best with his antics. It's possible the public felt the same way back in 1932. In the supporting cast are George Barbier as Jim Ronkson, the political boss; Sidney Toler as Professor Aikenhead; Louise MacIntosh as Senator Sara Scranton; and Jameson Thomas as Jerrido. Look fast in the opening of the story for Charles B. Middleton (the Emperor Ming of the "Flash Gordon" chaptered serials for Universal of the late 1930s) playing a picture frame portrait of Abraham Lincoln, separately along with Alan Mowbray as the George Washington, also in picture frame, coming to life, introducing themselves and bursting into song.
With the music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, the songs include: "This Country Needs a Man" (sung in rhyme talk by senators, tour guides and cast members); "Somebody Ought to Wave a Flag" (sung and tap danced by George M. Cohan in black-face); "Ah, Schnooza" (sung by Jimmy Durante); "Give Her a Kiss" (sung by "birds," "frogs" and voices of nature during Cohan's love scene in a motor boat with Colbert); "Convention/ Blair! Blair! Blair!" (sung by politicians and cast members); and "Give Her a Kiss" (sung by an unknown vocalist on a radio). The songs, with some of them being in rhyming dialog, are passable, but one wonders what tunes would have been used had Cohan written the score himself, as he did with his Broadway plays.
Those watching THE PHANTOM PRESIDENT will find this a rare treat in seeing the real George M. Cohan come to life on the screen. It's been out of the TV markets for quite some time now, and one could only hope it could resurface again, especially as an Election Day movie special on any one of the classic cable movie stations.
To learn more about the background, life and legend of George M. Cohan, watch the musical-biography, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (WB, 1942) starring James Cagney in his Academy Award winning performance. While portions of that movie are fictional, it's worthy entertainment. The story to "Yankee Doodle Dandy", however, never mentions of Cohan's association with motion pictures (he appeared in few silent ones), only his show business career on Broadway. After THE PHANTOM PRESIDENT Cohan got to appear in one final feature film in his career, GAMBLING (Fox, 1934), but as of this writing, that movie drama is believed "lost." As for THE PHANTOM PRESIDENT, it's a real curio and highly recommended. (****)
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