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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 <email@example.com>
Light weight but winning political satire even in its day, the big news in this well reviewed Rodgers and Hart not-quite-musical (there are just four main musical sequences - the best known song is "Give Her A Kiss") was George M. Cohan's first appearance in a talkie - he would make but one more in 1934 (GAMBLING), three years before Cohan returned to Broadway with Rodgers & Hart in their 1937 hit I'D RATHER BE RIGHT, playing a real president - FDR.
Playing the dual role here of a candidate and his more likable double, Cohan more than justified the hype, and ably assisted by the always wonderful Claudette Colbert as the candidate's girlfriend (shades of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA) and Jimmy Durante who almost steals the film as the nice Cohan's manager (catch Durante in MGM's 1934 STUDENT TOUR playing a crew coach named Merman in an in joke!), Cohan makes this a must-see in any year. In an election year like this one, we can only wish the finale were reality rather than a gentle satire of pandering to public perceptions.
The pleasant surprises don't stop with the leads however. Watch the singing portraits of past presidents in the opening for Alan Mowbray as George Washington and later, Sidney (Charlie Chan) Toler's appearance as a political boss - all smiles but as rooted in what "works" as any current campaign manager - is a joy to behold.
If you've seen Jimmy Cagney dancing to an Oscar as Cohan in the World War II YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (a decade after this effort), take a look at Cohan doing the original steps (in black-face, yet in an "on stage" number) and you'll wonder if Cagney didn't study this film specifically.
In the great legacy of film musicals, THE PHANTOM PRESIDENT is probably little more than a footnote, but it's a very enjoyable, important one.
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