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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
One of over 700 Paramount productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. See more »
Apparently George M. Cohan, American Theatrical Giant and God, was one of the most difficult men to work with. Cohan did not like taking orders from others - after all, his productions were of plays or revues or musical comedies he wrote, composed, staged, directed, and starred in himself. But when he was asked to do THE PHANTOM PRESIDENT in 1932 he had to be directed by Norman Taurog and sing the songs of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. That these two song writers were as good as he had been in his heyday did not matter - the only rival composer he liked was Irving Berlin, who waived the flag as well as George M. himself. Early on he showed his dislike for the two song writers, which they did not appreciate. He also did not care for making movies (he had made a couple of silent films of one or two plays, and several of his plays were made into movies). So THE PHANTOM PRESIDENT would be one of only two forays into talkies that George M. would take.
It is not the failure or mediocrity that many critics have considered it to be (including Cohan, and Rodgers and Hart). The tunes demonstrate the inventiveness of the composer and lyricist, who experimented here with their "talk - sing" dialogue in the convention sequence, in the President Picture introduction ("The Country Needs a Man"), and in the snake-oil scene. This is a dry run for the similar scenes in their Hollywood masterpieces LOVE ME TONIGHT and HALLELUJAH, I'M A BUM. The chemistry between Cohan and Claudette Colbert is actually good, as is the balance of the smooth Cohan and the explosive Durante. And there are lots of nice little bits by Durante (his election speech on the radio is marvelous), and one unexpected person: Sidney Toler as Professor Aikenhead. An advisor to the party expecting to run Blair for the Presidency, he is an early expert on spin control. Quickly he developes his own niche in the story - an underplayed, common-sensical sense of humor. He wants to see how loveable a character Blair is...a dubious proposition. He gets an apple, and tells Blair to hand it to a nearby horse. "Why?", asks a suspicious Cohan (here as Blair). Unruffled and smiling, Toler just replies, "Because you can't sell it to him!" Toler should have made more comedies, but when he does appear in comedies (like IT'S IN THE BAG) he has a good sense of timing.
But most intriguing is Cohan himself. This is his one surviving example of acting in a talkie, and he does nicely all considered. But he would not appear in another film where he had to take orders from others (in this case Taurog, a highly successful film director from the early 1930s to the 1950s). In 1935 Cohan financed a filming of his own play GAMBLING - this time being in charge of the whole production. It has not survived, and descriptions of it suggest it has little to offer us. Still, one hopes it will one day reappear, just to see Cohan at his dramatic peak. He made it just after appearing in Eugene O'Neill's AH WILDERNESS (his first appearance in a non-Cohan play), and got some of the best reviews in his career for that. GAMBLING, made just afterwards, should have been of some interest. We may never know.
After GAMBLING Cohan returned to the "legitimate" stage. Ironically it was for his last major role: playing FDR in I'D RATHER BE RIGHT, a musical comedy by Kaufman and Hart, with music by (ironically) Rodgers and Hart. If you see Jimmie Cagney in YANKEE DOODLE DANDY he does a scene from I'D RATHER BE RIGHT ("Off the Record!") which had new lyrics for the 1942 film regarding World War II. Cagney's Cohan praises Rodgers and Hart in the film - but in reality he still argued with them. He was forced to make comments against his friend Al Smith in the show, and he really disliked FDR. But the real Cohan was shown YANKEE DOODLE DANDY before he died in November 1942. The old trouper liked it.
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