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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
THE GREAT MAN VOTES (RKO Radio, 1939) stars "The Great Profile" John Barrymore, as the "Great Man" named Gregory Vance, in possibly his last good screen performance in a leading role. He stars as a drunken (no acting here) philosopher and widowed father of two pre-teen children (Peter Holden and Virginia Weidler) reduced to working as a night watchman. It so happens that he is the last registered voter in a factory district. When the local party machine pins its hopes on the way this district goes, his vote becomes important, and so does Vance. Vance allows himself to be exploited with the aid of a schoolteacher, Agnes Billow (Katherine Alexander), and thus, starts life anew as a commissioner of education.
A "B" comedy-drama with a lack of big star names (except for Barrymore, whose career by this time was at a decline), the movie plays fast during its 73 minutes running time. During one of its frequent showings on American Movie Classics in 1999, former host John Burke mentioned that Barrymore disliked working with children because they become scene stealers. Indeed the children are here, and are believable in their roles, especially Virginia Weidler, but they don't take away from that Barrymore magic. And director Garson Kanin successfully mixes the plot with sentiment and comedy without making it appear too "hokey." The supporting cast includes William Demarest as Charlie Dale; Donald MacBride as "Iron Hat" McCarlty, and Bennie Bartlett as his bully son, Davie McCarlty. And whatever became of that boy actor named Peter Holden, who makes his one and only screen appearance as Barrymore's intellectual son?
THE GREAT MAN VOTES, which presently shows on Turner Classic Movies, is the sort of movie that would be best shown on Election Day. (****)
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