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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 <email@example.com>
After becoming Warner Brothers big musical star in the Thirties, Darryl Zanuck who had formerly been chief of production at Warner Brothers before going to 20th Century, got Jack Warner to loan him Dick Powell for two films. The second was On the Avenue which may have been his best film in the decade and this one, Thanks a Million which is almost as good.
Powell desperately wanted to broaden his range, but the only thing Jack Warner gave him that could be classified as broadening was A Midsummer Night's Dream and that was a bit too broad. While both Thanks a Million and On the Avenue were not heavy drama, the writing was considerably above what Powell was given at Warner Brothers.
I happened to have some old vinyl albums which contained Dick Powell's recordings of the songs he sang from this film even though I had never seen it until recently. I liked the score that Arthur Johnston and Gus Kahn wrote, very much and it was what prompted me to get a bootleg tape of Thanks a Million. I'm glad I did.
It's one of the best political satires, I've ever seen done. Powell is a singer with a troupe traveling by bus to New York when it inevitably breaks down. To sing for their supper they join forces with political candidate Raymond Walburn to provide entertainment at his rallies. Soon they take over and one night when Walburn gets to drunk to go on, Powell gives a synopsis of his speech. Then political bosses Alan Dinehart and Paul Harvey get the bright idea to substitute Powell as their puppet candidate.
Elect a singing governor, nonsense you say. I would hasten to remind you that in that same era, Jimmie Davis was elected governor of Louisiana, Wilbert Lee O'Daniel was elected governor of Texas, and Glen H. Taylor became Senator from Idaho on the strength of their radio entertainment. Not as far fetched as you think. And very shortly Powell's home studio would be signing a mid-west sports announcer to an acting contract who would one day be president of the United States.
Powell gets able support from Ann Dvorak and Patsy Kelly as a singing sister duo, concert violinist David Rubinoff, radio's Fred Allen in the kind of role William Demarest later did for Preston Sturges. But acting honors go to Raymond Walburn. Walburn had playing these bloviating jovial type politicians down to a science, but he was never better than in this film as the tipsy fatuous judge the political bosses nominate as a puppet. He steals every scene he's in and the film should be preserved for him alone as well as one of Dick Powell's best musicals.
The songs Powell sings in this film Thanks a Million, I'm Sitting High On a Hilltop, and I've Got a Pocketful of Sunshine are very good. The last two were the philosophical type numbers that normally one would associate with Bing Crosby. In fact next year Arthur Johnston the composer part of the team would be writing for Crosby, they'd be doing Pennies from Heaven over at Columbia.
You made a million dreams come true and so I'm saying thanks a million to you, Dick Powell.
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