Pirdy is accident prone. He has been denied insurance from every company in town because he is always getting hit or hurt in some way. On the day that he meets the lovely Ellen of the ... See full summary »
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 onscreen credit for the author of the novel was "Anonymous," but Thomas Frederick Tweed is listed in the movie's copyright entry. See more »
When signing the order for the Ambassador to Greece, Hammond dips his pen twice in the inkwell in both the medium and wide shots. See more »
Mr. President, my paper's indictment against the government is a staggering one. Starvation is wanton everywhere, from coast to coast and from Canada to Mexico. Millions of dollars are poured into new battleships. Farmers burn corn and wheat, food is thrown into the sea while men and women are begging for bread. Men are freezing without coats while cotton rots in the field. Thousands are homeless, millions of vacant homes. Over 5000 gang land murders last year, and only five gangsters in prison...
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The American political film genre has a long and highly respected tradition. Classics like "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "Advise and Consent," and "The Best Man," generally reflect a liberal political outlook. When a movie politician veers from his initially progressive agenda, such as in "All the King's Men" and "A Lion Is in the Streets," it is usually a sign that he has lost his moral compass and sown the seeds of his own self- destruction.
In "Gabriel over the White House," Walter Huston's newly-elected President Hammond is initially a cynical career politician reminiscent of Warren Harding, a political hack steeped in the corrupt culture of backroom deals, nepotism, crony patronage, and influence-peddling. However, after a surviving a near-death experience he is transformed by an undefined supernatural force into an idealistic crusader for a much different agenda that he zealously pursues: a divine mission that includes an imperial Presidency that suspends Constitutional checks and balances, ignores civil liberties, and invokes martial law.
The use of the name Gabriel in the title posits that this change in American government is sanctioned and approved by some kind of divine authority. In addition, Director Gregory LaCava also associates Lincoln's image with Huston's transformation, which gives his subsequent metamorphosis a gravitas and moral authority it might not otherwise have. The casting of respected character actor Walter Huston may not have been an arbitrary choice. Just three years earlier, the actor had played the title role in D. W. Griffith's last major film, "Abraham Lincoln," a part that was very closely associated with his 1933 screen image. (This is well before Huston played more iconic roles such as "Dodsworth" and "Treasure of the Sierra Madre.")
Because of the tradition of American political films, viewers' preconceptions have often prompted the misreading of "Gabriel" as a Liberal diatribe. The film certainly does postulate that a totalitarian state of some stripe is the answer to America's problems. However, while there are certain aspects that may appear Leftist, there are more that are reminiscent of the Fascist policies of European National Socialism.
Huston authorizes Franchot Tone's character to create a private federal police force which operates totally at the whim of the now dictatorial President. This force receives no governmental oversight and enforces the President's will without due process. It is reminiscent of the then-powerful Ernst Rohm's SA in Germany. Rohm and the SA would not be eliminated until the infamous "Night of the Long Knives" in 1934. Although it's difficult to judge color in a black and white film, the uniforms of Tone's "storm troopers" appear to be brown. Their military tribunal summarily dispatches the undesirable criminal foreign immigrants without aid of counsel in the manner of a totalitarian state.
President Hammond's demonizing of foreign elements as the cause of the country's social ills suggests the tactics used by European fascism in the early 30s. What is the nationality of C. Henry Gordon, who plays foreign immigrant hoodlum Nick Diamond? Early on it is shown that Diamond's real name is something ending with a "ski." Although he is careful not to use a clearly identifiable Italian or Eastern European accent, Gordon, a native New Yorker, specialized in swarthy villains throughout his career, most memorably as the Muslim fanatic Surat Khan, who massacred prisoners including women and children under a white flag in the Errol Flynn epic, "The Charge of the Light Brigade."
Especially impressive is the bravura, almost 360 degree camera dolly during the firing squad sequence in which Gordon and his immigrant criminal associates are summarily executed. The shot ironically shows the Statue of Liberty in the background, clearly implying with in-your- face pointed irony that these executions are taking place on Ellis Island.
The saber-rattling show of military force toward the end of the film in order to collect outstanding WWI debt is somewhat reminiscent of Billy Mitchell's famous demonstrations of air power from a decade earlier. (In fact, it has been reported that archival footage from the Mitchell demonstrations is used in this sequence.) Among the countries Hammond signs agreements with are France, and ironically Italy and Japan. Huston's bellicose, thinly-disguised threats of military action are not unlike Germany's bullying of Europe during the Thirties.
One of the last statements the dying Huston character says is that the power structure he has left in place will last a "millenium." Does the use of a thousand years as a political time frame sound like a familiar paraphrase (i.e. Hitler's Thousand Year Reich)?
The original book was written anonymously by someone named Tweed. (How's that for a nom-de-plume?), but the real power and economic force behind "Gabriel over the White House" as a novel and movie was William Randolph Hearst. Although Hearst was a progressive reformer when he first began delving into politics, by the early 30s he had moved to the right and was a great admirer of Mussolini. (In the opening newsreel montage of "Citizen Kane," Kane, a thinly-disguised roman-a-clef version of Hearst, can be seen schmoozing with Facists.)
Despite this, Hearst was an avid Roosevelt supporter in 1932 although at that time he couldn't have known the full extent of FDR's New Deal agenda. Hearst had established his own production company, Cosmopolitan Pictures, at MGM in order to insure the production of star vehicles for his mistress, Marion Davies. This clout undoubtedly aided him in securing Metro's support of the picture. Hearst reportedly submitted the script to Roosevelt who apparently approved of it but asked for some changes. No one has said definitively what Roosevelt contributed, but it was agreed that for a variety of reasons, distribution would be postponed until 1933, well after the election.
Today "Gabriel over the White House" is looked upon today as an aberrant curiosity and relic from Hollywood's pre-Code era. In 1932 America was in a dark place, and I think "Gabriel" clearly reflects that angst-ridden period on our history.
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