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Entertainers enter a political rally to get out of the rain and become part of the show. One of them (Powell) gives a speech in place of the besotted candidate (Walburn) and is chosen to be the candidate by backers he later exposes as crooks. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
THANKS A MILLION (20th Century-Fox, 1935), directed by Roy Del Ruth, ranks one of the finer musical-comedies released during the initial years of the newly formed 20th Century-Fox studio. Although reportedly successful, it's so overlooked these days as musicals are concerned that after viewing it, one wonders why it isn't better known. It comes near to something of a political satire from the Preston Sturges (THE GREAT McGINTY, 1940) school for comedy, or Frank Capra's (MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, 1939) common man making good philosophy. Starring Dick Powell and Ann Dvorak, both on loan-out assignments from Warner Brothers, the feature film debut of radio comedian Fred Allen, musical antics by the Yacht Club Boys, along with delightful wisecracking Patsy Kelly, notable faces of Alan Dinehart, Paul Harvey, Edwin Maxwell, Russell Hicks and Andrew Toombes, character actor Raymond Walburn in a memorable performance, and special guest appearance of Paul Whiteman and his Band, THANKS A MILLION should get enough votes to be declared a winner.
The story opens on a rainy night where Ned Lyman (Fred Allen) and his musical troupe riding on a bus bound for New York City. Departing a bus in New City, Pa., only to have to wait two hours for the next bus to their destination, the troupe decide to escape the rain by entering a building where a political rally is taking place. Campaigning for governor is Judge A. Darius Culliman (Raymond Walburn), making his long-winded speech that puts his attendees to sleep, although many are there only to wait until the rain stops. Noticing a disaster, Lyman suggests to the candidates that the only way for Culliman to get a full house is to try a new approach in hiring his troupe entertain with songs and dancing in between speeches, with Eric Land (Dick Powell) acting as crooner, and Sally and Phoebe Mason (Ann Dvorak and Patsy Kelly) performing as dancers. The idea practically works until one night Culliman arrives drunk, leaving Eric to fill in and campaign for Culliman.Eric's trusting and pleasing personality has the public wanting Culliman to withdrawn his ticket and have Eric run for governor instead. At first he refuses, but Eric does it anyhow, but for the wrong reasons, thus, causing him to lose the love and trust of his girlfriend, Sally, especially after spending more time with Betsy Kruger (Margaret Irving), his campaign manager's (Alan Dinehart) wife, who wants Eric for herself.
On the musical program, with music and lyrics by Arthur Johnston and Gus Kahn, songs include: "Thanks a Million" (instrumental, violin played by David Rubinoff); "Sugar Plum" (danced by Ann Dvorak and Patsy Kelly); "I've Got a Pocketful of Sunshine" (sung by Dick Powell); "Square Deal party" (written and performed by The Yacht Club Boys); "Thanks a Million" (sung by Powell and Dvorak); *"A Fella Has to Learn His A.B.C's Today" (written and performed by The Yacht Club Boys); "Sugar Plum" (sung by Dvorak and Kelly); "Sittin' High on a Hill Top" (sung by Powell); "The Belle of New O'Leans" (sung by Ramona playing piano); "Happy Days Are Here Again" (instrumental); "Thanks a Million" (sung by Powell); and "Square Deal Party" (reprise/sung by cast). Good tunes with optimistic titles quite popular during the Depression era, most largely forgotten today.
*A Fella Has to Learn His A.B.C.'s Today" is a comic number deleted from the final print that exists on a motion picture soundtrack album (double featured with HAPPY GO LUCKY, a 1942 Dick Powell musical) as distributed by Caliban Records in 1981.
Singing dominates dancing in this production, with Dick Powell keeping himself busy in his sixth 1935 theatrical film release, putting his vocal chords to good use. A likable box office attraction, it's no wonder why anyone wouldn't want to vote for him. In 1937, Powell was invited back to 20th Century-Fox for another successful musical, ON THE AVENUE, featuring Madeleine Carroll and Alice Faye, with score by Irving Berlin.
Summed up best as an Election Day movie, THANKS A MILLION was remade by 20th-Fox as IF I'M LUCKY (1946) starring Carmen Miranda, Perry Como, Vivian Blaine and Phil Silvers. Both musicals, currently presented on the Fox Movie Channel, were formerly shown on the American Movie Classics cable channel from 1991-92. (***1/2)
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