Nunnally Johnson was an illustrious writer-producer (and sometimes director) with a long career at 20th Century Fox. Now available on demand from Fox Cinema Archives, Thanks a Million features a Johnson script that’s still funny, well-constructed, sensibly motivated, and topical. Director Roy Del Ruth is in his element at putting this kind of zesty entertainment over.
It features a rare good film role for radio star Fred Allen (given a special billing with his portrait) as a cynical motormouth who manages a down-and-out jazz band. He finagles their way into supporting a gubernatorial candidate (Raymond Walburn), an amusingly stereotypical drunken blowhard. The “jazz campaign” takes off with a public more alert to entertainment than issues. Through a funny, entirely credible set of circumstances, the band’s charming crooner (Dick Powell) becomes so popular that he ends up replacing the candidate. The clever twist is that he assumes he won’t win, but it’ll be great publicity for his career. Then the story becomes a painless, predictable, well-done battle for his soul (and his girlfriend, Ann Dvorak) against the political machine, all wrapped up in 90 minutes.
Patsy Kelly’s around to toss out some hardbitten one-liners, such as when a local man tells her this town is the county seat and she says, “It looks like it.” It’s also a musical, so Powell knocks out several songs, and there are appearances by Paul Whiteman’s Band and the novelty-singing Yacht Club Boys. In the end, it’s a hip example of “Capra-corn” (without Capra) and a tale that could easily be told today.
// Notes from the Road
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