Monday, March 13, 2006

Day 60: "Gabriel Over the White House"

Director: Gregory La Cava 1933
Truly a goofball movie that weirdly resonates today. Walter Huston plays a party hack elected president who plans to do as little as possible. After a car accident (the president himself is driving over 90 mph!), Huston's character wakes from a coma a new man, thanks to divine--or at least archangelic--intervention. No longer a do-nothing pol, President Hammond adjourns Congress and basically assumes the powers of a dictator. As such, he leans to the left (he creates a work force for America's unemployed--this before FDR's WPA), but he also leans to the right (he suspends habeas corpus (sound familiar?), at least for racketeers, who are court-martialed (that's right, court-martialed), then executed before firing squads in sight of the Statue of Liberty!). Nutty enough? Finally, he meets with representatives from all the world's nations (at least the ones who owe us money from World War l) and threatens to call in America's I.O.U.s unless the world agrees to destroy all munitions and work for peace. As he signs this treaty, he collapses and dies. What a movie!
There are references to Lincoln throughout (a bust in the Oval Office, Lincoln's quill-pen on the president's desk)--and Huston had actually played Lincoln just three years before in a bio-pic directed by D.W. Griffith. "Gabriel" was produced by William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan Pictures in 1932, but not distributed (by M-G-M, no less) until after the presidential election to avoid any possibility of influencing voters (Hearst was no friend of FDR's). Watching this today makes you realize how desperate Americans were during the early years of the Depression. Although his heart is in the right place, President Hammond clearly straddles the line of Fascism. The more you think about this seemingly silly movie, the scarier its premise becomes.


Post a Comment

<< Home