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Newly inaugurated President Judson Hammond is content to live out the next four years exercising a hands-off approach and leaving the problems of Depression America to local authorities. But after a miraculous recovery from an auto accident, Hammond is ready to take on every social ill and neither Congress, gangsters nor the nations of the world will stop him. Written by
Erik Gregersen <email@example.com>
The protest march of the "army of the unemployed" in the story was no doubt a reference to the protest march of the "Bonus Army" in 1932, where veterans of WWI marched on Congress to demand payment of promised bonuses. They were attacked with tanks and tear gas by the U.S. Army led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur on orders of President Herbert Hoover. William Randolph Hearst, who railed against that action in his newpapers, saw to it that the President in this film helped the people. Meanwhile, Louis B. Mayer, a staunch Republican, delayed the movie until Hoover was out of office. See more »
When John Bronson and his daughter, Alice, are seated on a bench with the "Army of the Unemployed", he is approached by someone and gets up from the bench. In the next shot, he is again seated and gets up again. See more »
Pendola 'Pendie' Molloy:
[to Beekman about the President]
He's doing the things you wanted. The way he thinks is so simple and honest. It sounds a little crazy. If he's mad, it's a divine madness. Look at the chaos and catastrophe the sane men of this world have brought about!
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In some way historians can argue that certain figures in our history should have had a chance to become President. Senator Robert Taft deserved an opportunity to show his abilities in that job, as did Senators Henry Clay and Daniel Webster and Robert La Follette. Mistakes, political miscalculations, and sheer chance prevented their elections (and in Taft's case even his nomination). But while there is a general feeling of pity for those four gentlemen in failing to reach the White House, most historians agree that William Randolph Hearst did not fully deserve to even approach it. Hearst was extremely good at building up a newspaper empire, and of creating an exciting and stimulating model for the modern newspaper. But his overwhelming desire to reach the White House became such a joke that he became known as "William - Also Ran - dolph Hearst".
Problem with Hearst was that he enjoyed playing with public opinion and guiding it, but he also enjoyed...well enjoyed living the life of a remarkably wealthy man. His father George Hearst was a prospector who found one of the great gold mines in the west and rose to the post of U.S. Senator from California (ironically, a higher national office than his son ever reached). The image of Hearst from CITIZEN KANE of the boy whose father was a drinker, and whose mother signs over to the boy ownership of the mine is not true. In the course of doing business, Hearst Sr. got ownership of the San Francisco Enquirer, and Willy (who'd been tossed out of several colleges) asked to run it. George allowed Willy to do that, and Willy found his true métier.
His bug to become President never left him. He did win a Congressional seat from New York City in 1901, and held it for two terms. But by then his yellow journalism made so many enemies that he was ignored in Congress (when he decided to show up - he really could not apply himself to the job of Congressman). Yet in 1904 he managed to gather over 200 delegates for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency. Unfortunately he could not get the two thirds majority needed, and the delegates nominated Chief Justice Alton Brooks Parker of New York State's Court of Appeals (who was thrashed by Teddy Roosevelt in the election). Possibly, had Hearst got nominated, it would have enabled him to rid himself of Presidentialitis. That was not to be the case. He would run for Mayor of New York, Governor of New York, and seek a nomination (in the 1920s) for Senator from New York. He never won any of these elections, and he did not get nominated for Senator. His influence in the 1932 Democratic Convention was thrown to FDR, but he subsequently broke with the newly elected 32nd President.
Hearst, in his career, had pushed for better conditions for the poor, and better treatment of Labor. He had been hard on the trusts. He opposed our entry into World War I and Wilson's League of Nations. All of this is familiar from Welles' CITIZEN KANE. But his views turned rightward after 1915. Being German, his anti-war views (however wise they may have been) were colored by a pro-German viewpoint. His pro-labor point of view turned sour as he faced more and more serious financial problems (especially in the Depression). He did, however, think that the government of the day was inept in handling the Depression, and thought stronger measures were needed.
So he financed and produced GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE. His solution was that the President must seize power, despite that antiquated series of checks and balances called the Constitution, and force relief in the form of jobs on the public. This mirrors part of FDR's New Deal (like the CCC, which built public roads), but FDR did try to get this legislation through Congress in the first 100 days. Hearst also was against expensive military build-ups. He has Walter Huston force "THE WASHINGTON COVENANT" on Europe and the World, which will reduce the armed navies. Actually (and somewhat intelligently) he shows that the large battleships are dinosaurs - Gregory La Cava uses film of Billy Mitchell's sinking of old battleships by aircraft from 1921 in the movie to demonstrate this. But it is doubtful that in real life such a treaty could be forced on anyone. They would resent the strong arm lecturing involved.
The film is fascinating despite the ridiculous populist - cum - fascist viewpoint. It helps that Walter Huston is playing the President, as he certainly gives whatever juice he has into such a thankless role (from hack politician to injured car passenger to international savior?). The rest of the cast seems adequate, though C. Henry Gordon does what he can to make his gangster boss seem villainous enough (including a drive by shooting near the White House). I give the film a seven out of 10, as an interesting curiosity, and a quick look into the mind of one of our most fascinating millionaires.
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