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In 1923, Gregory Vance, a widower with two children, is a former scholar who has turned from book-to-bottle. He works, slightly, as a night-watchman and his children, who know him for what he is and what he isn't, are his only admirers. Then, it is discovered that he is the only registered voter in a key precinct and the politicians, from both parties, arrive in droves bearing inducements. What he does about this situation, and the relatives who want to take his children away from him make up the story. Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
Garson Kanin wrote that he insisted that everyone working on the film call John Barrymore "Mr. Barrymore" in a attempt to perk up the actor's sagging self-image, including people who had known Barrymore for years. Several members of the crew quit the film instead of following Kanin's edict. See more »
Increasing alcoholism and aging in general ended a remarkable acting career. John Barrymore was a stage star at the time of the San Francisco Earthquake (which he survived), and it peaked on stage with his HAMLET on Broadway in 1922. By that time he had become the most notable stage star in America to turn towards the movies, with films like DR. JECKYLL AND MR. HYDE and BELOVED ROGUE. He was strong enough to retain leading man status until 1932/33. I would say his last leading men A-features are ARSENE LUPIN, SVENGALI, and GRAND HOTEL. But after that year, while he is still a star and still appearing in grade-A features it is in supporting roles. He does do TWENTIETH CENTURY in the lead, but nothing else followed. Some of these are still first rate films (SPAWN OF THE NORTH, DINNER AT EIGHT, TRUE CONFESSIONS, MAYTIME), but he is becoming more and more of a joke in the industry.
1939 is his last year for appearing in first rate films or to even have a lead. THE GREAT MAN VOTES is his last lead role of value. As Gregory Vance he is a former college professor of national reputation who has drunk away that reputation. But he lives for the sake of his children (Peter Holden and Virginia Weidler). They are all he has left since the death of their mother (the event that sent him into his alcoholic haze).
By sheer chance his voting district is the key one in a Mayoralty election. However, William Demerest (gearing up for his politico in the following year's THE GREAT MCGINTY) informs the party regulars that the nation is following this city's election closely (it is an off-year otherwise), and the winning party may well determine the voter's views nationwide the next year. Demerest wants them to make sure their party wins.
It seems that Vance's son has recently been bullied by a boy who is the son of the local district leader (Donald McBride). McBride is feared more than loved (at one point his son has to be pulled out of some cement, and a cop who has watched this looks at the impression of the boy's bottom in the wet cement, and says, "The spitting image of his old man!"). McBride spends the movie doing cartwheels to keep Barrymore sober and ready to vote for the party's candidate for Mayor. It seems that Vance's vote (which is neutral) will decide the district's direction, and so Vance has to be kept on the bandwagon. With such a weight on his shoulders we have to watch if Barrymore/Vance will vote or not. What is important, his public feelings or public duty?
The cast is game and lively, including Barrymore up to the sardonic concluding line of the film. It was a good performance for the great actor to conclude his leading role career. Shortly after he also appeared in an important leading role in Mitchell Leisin's MIDNIGHT (supporting Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche). There too he was in top form.
But by then he needed to have cue cards outside the range of the cameras with his dialog on them. He refused to learn the lines by heart (he claimed he would only do that with Shakespeare or great poetry). In fact, he probably could barely remember scripted dialog any longer. After 1939 his great days in movies was actually over. He soon was appearing in films like THE INVISIBLE WOMAN. He would turn to radio, appearing as himself (and as a cartoon version of a drunken ham actor at that) on Rudy Vallee's show. He did go back to Broadway with a play MY DEAR FAMILY, which was a comedy about him as an alcoholic ham actor again. He died in 1942, but artistically he'd been dead for years.
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