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The Great Man Votes

The Great Man Votes
Great Man Votes.jpg
theatrical poster
Directed byGarson Kanin
Screenplay byJohn Twist
Garson Kanin (uncredited)
Based on"The Great Man Votes" (short story) by Gordon Malherbe Hillman
Produced byCliff Reid
StarringJohn Barrymore
CinematographyRussell Metty
Edited byJack Hively
Music byRoy Webb
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • January 13, 1939 (1939-01-13) (US)
Running time
72 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$432,000[1]

The Great Man Votes is a 1939 American drama film starring John Barrymore as a widowed professor turned drunkard who has the deciding vote in an election for mayor. It was based on the short story of the same name by Gordon Malherbe Hillman published in the November 1933 issue of American Magazine.[2] The plot of the 2008 movie Swing Vote has been compared to The Great Man Votes.[3]


Former Harvard professor Gregory Vance (John Barrymore), now an outcast alcoholic in a small city, is introduced hitching a ride with the local milkman, who also delivers alcohol to him, after his shift in his current job as a night watchman. Despite his alcoholism, Vance cares for his children, Joan (Virginia Weidler) and Donald (Peter Holden), bringing them up on the classics, teaching them Latin, and having them recite Shakespeare. They in turn look after their father and his reputation.

After an altercation between his children and some bullies, led by the son of "Iron Hat" McCarthy (Donald McBride), the local political boss, Vance is visited by his children's teacher, Agnes Billow (Katherine Alexander), and the two become friendly with each other, especially as she realizes that Vance is a writer she greatly respected and he reveals that his fall from respectability began with the death of the children's mother.

With a city election for mayor nearing, Iron Hat is informed that every vote in the city is already locked in place, with a likely tie between the boss's handpicked current mayor and a rival, with one exception in one crucial ward—Gregory Vance. At the same time, Vance's wealthy in-laws are threatening to take custody of his children, something Joan and Donald do not want, despite the material advantages that would offer them.

Trying to woo Vance for his vote, Iron Hat offers him a low-level job with the city, but the children are able to raise the bargaining stakes until Vance is offered the post of Commissioner of Education. Vance himself is reluctant to be a party to such dirty politics, but when he demands getting the job offer in writing, he is able to expose the corruption of the mayor and Iron Hat. Now socially respectable and a new man, Vance is able to turn over a new leaf, presumably along with Miss Billow.



The film recorded a loss of $10,000.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931–1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p57
  2. ^ "The Great Man Votes (1939): Screenplay Info". TCM Movie Database. Turner Classic Movies.
  3. ^ Dargis, Manohla (August 1, 2008). "Hey, America, This Guy's for You (Movie Review 'Swing Vote')". The New York Times.

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The Great Man Votes
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