Great Man Votes, The (1939): Garson Kanin’s Directs John Barrymore

Garson Kanin, better known as a writer (often with his wife Ruth Gordon) directed The Great Man Votes, a family melodrama with political overtones.

It is based on the short story of the same name by Gordon Malherbe Hillman published in American Magazine, in November 1933.

John Barrymore plays Gregory Vance, a widowed professor turned drunkard who has the deciding vote in an election for mayor.

Vance descends into an alcoholic abyss after the death of his wife, barely able to hold a job as a night watchman.

Vance’s intelligent children, Joan and Donald, benefit from his tutoring. But they are bullied at school by other students and their father risks losing custody if he cannot change his ways.

The new teacher Agnes Billow helps Vance recover, becoming more like the man he used to be, particularly after a political bigwig tempts him ethically with a bribe of a better job in exchange for Vance’s vote.

The film was a commercial flop.


RKO Radio

Running time: 72 Minutes

Release date: January 13, 1939


The plot of the 2008 movie Swing Vote has been compared to The Great Man Votes.