Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Gabriel Over the White House (1933)

Synopsis: U. S. President Judson C. "Judd" Hammond (Walter Huston) starts off as a do-nothing partisan hack. However, he suffers a near-fatal automobile accident, which motivates him to become a sort of "Gabriel over the White House." His first actions are to dissolve Congress and the cabinet of "big-business lackeys." His presidency eventually becomes a celestial dictatorship.

Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Year: 1933

Rated: NR

Run Time: 86 min.

Budget: $232,400


Walter Huston: President Judson Hammond
Karen Morley: Pendola Molloy
Franchot Tone: Hartley Beekman-Secretary to the President
Arthur Byron: Jasper Brooks
Dickie Moore: Jimmy Vetter
C. Henry Gordon: Nick Diamond
David Landau: John Bronson
Samuel S. Hinds: Dr. Eastman (billed as Samuel Hinds)
William Pawley: Borell
Jean Parker: Alice Bronson
Clare Du Brey: Nurse (billed as Claire DuBrey)


Director: Gregory La Cava
Producer(s): William Randolph Hearst and Walter Wagner
Writers: T. F. Tweed (story), Carey Wilson and Bertram Bloch (screenplay)
Cinematography: Bert Glennon
Music: William Axt
Editing: Basil Wrangell

Rating: 2/4

REVIEW (Warning: Spoilers):

The plot is simple: president enters office, president is party hack, president has accident, president is enlightened, president becomes activist, president becomes dictator, president spreads his values by bombing other countries, president dies and is remembered as a hero. How simple can it get. Yet, deep down, within this simplistic plot lies a darker and more satanic message than even the darkest of horror cinema. It is a fascistic, socialistic, activist, and statist film of the first order. This is significant particularly because it inspired that totalitarian and overrated FDR. It was indeed the movie made for his inauguration. What makes this movie more disturbing is the initial popularity of this movie among Depression-era Americans. People actually thought this could be a possibility in America, especially during that tragic era known as the Great Depression. The message of the film can be explained just within the poster.

Let's start with the story of the movie. The film begins with the inauguration of Judson C. "Judd" Hammond (Walter Huston) into the presidency. He turns out to be a political hack and a puppet in the hands of his party. He shows more interest in playing with Jim and having sex with Pendola Molloy (Karen Morley) than with actually doing stuff, dismissing unemployment and bootlegging as "local problems." However, when he suffers a near-fatal car accident, he is almost dead; however, something supernatural happens to him. He is revived (by Gabriel the Archangel), and promises his doctor, "Judd Hammond isn't going to die." Unable to cope with this resurrection, the doctor keeps it a secret for several weeks. Finally, when Pendola is allowed to see him, she finds out about this transformation; Judd is careless about her and he is now distant. Soon, the president reveals his activist views before Congress in these words: "I believe in democracy as Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln believed in democracy. And if what I plan to do in the name of the people makes me a dictator, then it is a dictatorship based on Jefferson's definition of democracy." He soon begins to use Jefferson's belief in democracy to justify his dictatorship and his imposing of martial law. After all, isn't it "the greatest good for the greatest number?" His actions include: calling for the resignation of the vice president and the Cabinet, demanding that Congress vote him extraordinary executive powers, outlawing foreclosures, issuing a federal bank insurance to protect depositors, and grant subsidies to farmers. He starts an "Army of Construction," which will give every working American a job until the economy recovers. After all this, Hammond turns his eye on crime, particularly on the immigrant bootlegger Nick Diamond (C. Henry Gordon); he repeals the 18th Amendment, starts the creation of government liquor stores, and gives Diamond the choice to return voluntarily to his immigrant country. However, Diamond refuses, and he bombs the first government liquor store and attempts to assassinate the president in a drive-way shootout, which wounds Pendola. As revenge, Hammond sends his army to ambush Nick Diamond and capture him and his gang. The army succeeds and "technicalities of the law" are circumvented in a brief military tribunal led by Hartley Beekman (Franchot Tone) in the name of "first principles." After that, Diamond and his gang are executed by gun. Yet that is not enough to show Hammond's greatness. His last and most important test is foreign policy. He moves to collect unpaid war debts from WWI, inviting all the world leaders on a yacht and broadcasting on radio his demand for payment. When the representatives protest their inability to pay, Hammond bombs their ships and refuses to abide any longer by the naval limitations treaty. He threatens carnage and destruction to the human race unless the other countries balance their budgets and pay their debts. Desperate, the leaders agree on a peace covenant, and all sign. However, as Hammond is signing, he collapses and is taken to his office. Before he dies, Pendola sees the return of the old Hammond, who sought her approval. She assures him that he is one of the greatest men of all time before he dies. Finally, the spirit of Gabriel leaves him, and it is there that the movie ends.

This film is animated by Walter Huston's good performance, followed by Karen Morley's passable depiction of Pendola Molloy. It shows the desperation of the people during this hard time, the activism that transform Hammond from political hack to political dictator. Gregory La Cava's direction is also passable, though it gets interesting after the transformation of Hammond. One thing I would like to note is how Hammond is transformed. Instead of showing Gabriel in all his glory, the movie shows him appearing through the light movement of the curtains. It happens during Hammond's resurrection and death. That's all you need to know. However, from what the spirit motivates him to do, this is anything but Gabriel. This spirit is somewhat like the spirit that inhabits the Antichrist; the president is killed in an accident, then dies, then comes back to life and imposes dictatorship and fascism, then dies again. See the similarity?

Anyways, if you want to see something bizarre and strange, and if you want to watch a movie about politics, then this is the film for you. It contains political propaganda akin to Triumph of the Will and all the other Nazi propaganda films made during the Third Reich.

Watch it just for the historical value; other than that, this movie's politics are dump.

For a good libertarian analysis on this movie, watch this.

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