I think there was a moment in the 30s - say, June 14th, 1937, between noon and 2:57 PM - when there wasn't a Dick Powell musical playing in theaters somewhere. This was his sixth movie of 1935.



It's been called the "greatest musical political satire of the Great Depression," but that's a bit much. It begins with a troupe of musicians en route to Vaguetown by way of Genericville:



You hear a familiar vinegar voice, the sound of sarcastic contempt funneled through a sharp nose, and think: is that him? Really? Yes:


Fred Allen. His national radio career was underway by the time this movie came out in 1935; audiences would have known the voice before they saw the face. I've never quite gotten a clear grasp of his career or impact - he was loved by the critics, especially latter-day students of radio, because he made fun of the medium, was dismissive of television, and just seemed like a smart, ornery guy. How much he was loved, I can't say, but I suspect he was regarded at arm's length by the public, because he just wasn't a lovable guy, More like Letterman, perhaps. He didn't make many movies.

The bus stops in a jerkwater burg; everyone piles out, heads to an auditorium to get warm, amd discovers the Worst Politician in the World giving a speech:



Naturally, the unemployed orchestra decides he needs to jazz up his act with some toe-tapping songs and toe-tapping dances, and they're hired to put on a show to bring people into the rallies. Suddenly they're popular! Because it's HIM!




The candidate is soon shoved aside in favor of Dick, and his band decides they'll go along for the ride. They even pretend to start their own party - and the video below shows you A) how little things change, and B) the general level of the music in the movie. It's fine; it does the job. But they didn't have enough budget to rhyme all the words, so they had to repeat a few.



Love interest? Check: Ann Dvorak. First film was 1916; last was 1951.



She seems a bit too smart and classy to be hanging around broke musicians, but who cares. Towards the end there's the obligatory Big Number, with a set that looks a wee fascistic; that was the style.



There's an element modern audiences may miss: the band in this scene was hired for the rival, establishment candidate, a response to Dick Powell's scrappy underdog campaign. It's Paul Whiteman, the "King of Jazz." It's one of those things that makes you scratch your head: so, Whiteman agrees to be the house band for the political party that's going against Dick Powell, America's Crooner Heartthrob? What's the coin in that? Obviously no one in the audience would hold it against him: it's just a movie. But it's still a bit odd to me; after Whiteman's orchestra plays for The Man, the movie switches to scrappy Powell taking the stage in a dingy auditorium crammed with The People. Surely this meant Whiteman was already something of an upperclass lapdog, no?

Well, hardly. But if you knew nothing of the personalities of the era, you might conclude exactly that.

Finally, a shot from the inevitable campaign montage.



New York City, obviously - the building in the middle gives it away. It's the Lincoln Tower, a 55-story beast whose Gothic style disappointed many architectural critics at the time. I've always thought it's an amazing building. The one in the foreground I don't recognize, alas. But it reminds you how the Manhattan skyline seeme more imposing when there were fewer buildings, how the really big ones stood out.

"WHDS" was made up. The towers are models. Not bad FX for a minor little musical. Not a bad little musical, either. I wish they still made them - but now it's "Glee" with old songs recycled. Whether that's a fair trade is up to you. (Note: the correct answer is "it's not a fair trade.")