Review: The Great Man Votes (1939)

>> Thursday, January 4, 2007

USA/B&W-72 m./Dir: Garson Kanin/Wr: John Twist/Cast: John Barrymore (Gregory Vance), Peter Holden (Donald Ainslee Vance), Virginia Weidler (Joan Vance), Donald MacBride (“Iron Hat” McCarthy)

Illustrious actor and celebrated souse, John Barrymore, gives a star performance of pickled perfection in the whiskey-soaked comedy, The Great Man Votes. He portrays a former Harvard professor and man of letters who has fallen on hard times following the death of his beloved wife. The widower barely manages to support himself, his children, and the local milkman (who supplies his daily delivery of bootleg booze) by working as a night watchman. His job and parental custody are thrown into jeopardy when his kids get in the fight with the son of a big shot politician who called their dad a “drunk old bummer.” The kids will have none of that, because they know the old man only puts away a quart a day. Luckily, fortune smiles on the literate lush when his vote becomes crucial in the city’s mayoral election.

The role of the great man laid low was tailor-made for Barrymore, whose own career had taken a downswing as his drinking had taken an upswing. Professionally, he had become known as temperamental and forgetful, often relying on cue cards to deliver his lines. However, this late career role exhibits vintage Barrymore, as he leaps into his part with energy, enthusiasm, and a surplus of charm. It’s impossible to watch this delightful gem and not fall in love with the affable inebriate or the real-life drunkard portraying him.

Drinks Consumed--Whiskey

Intoxicating Effects--Sneaking sips, slurred speech, and stumbling

Potent Quotables--MILKMAN: Hurry up if you want a ride home. I think I’m late.
VANCE: One moment. I will consult me hourglass. (Lifting a near-empty bottle to inspect the level of the liquor) It is approximately 7 a.m.

Video Availability--The Great Man Votes has not been released on DVD. However, an out-of-print VHS (Turner Home Entertainment) was released, and the film occasionally appears on television on TCM.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Barrymore portrayed a tanked thespian, lampooning his own persona in The Great Profile (1940).

Hollywood's Hellfire Club: The Misadventures of John Barrymore, W.C. Fields, Errol Flynn and the Bundy Drive Boys (Paperback)

John Barrymore Collection (Sherlock Holmes / Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde / The Beloved Rogue / Tempest) (4pc) (Silent) (Full)


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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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