Tuesday, November 1, 2016

GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE (1933)


In this, the worst presidential campaign since 1932 Germany, President Judson Hammond of Gabriel Over the White House looks awfully good -- even if he goes awfully far to help raise America out of the Depression.

It wasn't always this way, however. President Hammond, you see, used to put party (political and otherwise) over country first, last and always. Only lightly concerned about the endless promises he made to voters during the campaign, a colleague assures him, "By the time they realize you're not going to keep them, your term will be over." Who was it that said politicians need a public and a private face?


"I faithfully swear to make myself rich off  the
donations of lobbyists, and the backs of the
taxpayers, so help me God."
For Hammond, being president is business as usual. Meaning, press conference questions must be submitted 24 hours in advance, all his answers will be generic banalities, and he is never to be quoted. After listening to answers given during this campaign, that might not be a bad idea.

Being the kind of guy nobody says "no" to, Hammond relaxes by driving his car at 100 MPH -- until he eventually loses control and goes flying headfirst into a coma for several days. Just as it appears to be heading for the polling station in the sky, he undergoes a spiritual transformation, waking up as a combination of Abraham Lincoln, Benito Mussolini, Jesus Christ, and Bernie Sanders. It's certainly more interesting than a party hack with a famous name or a bankrupt casino owner.

"The good news, America, is that you won't have to
travel to Central America to live under a banana
republic strongman."
Once immune to the despair of the unemployed, hungry, and homeless -- not to mention the violent bootlegging underworld -- Hammond runs roughshod over the Constitution in order to right America. When firing his Cabinet isn't enough to prove his mettle, Hammond declares martial law and dissolves both houses of Congress -- with Congressional approval! Now you know it's a fantasy.

But that's not all. Deciding to beat bootleggers at their own game, Hammond opens government-run liquor stores. And how else is he going to get foreign countries to pay their debts but to make sure the US has the largest Navy in the world, and force all other countries to give up their military so they have the scratch to give back to Uncle Sam -- or else. 


"Let's do the dirty before I get conked on the head."
Walter Huston plays Hammond as something of a double role. Initially a blatant roue, he installs his girlfriend, Pendola Molloy, as his "personal secretary", giving the concept of "private dictation" a whole new meaning.


But after experiencing his transformation, Huston goes dead serious, with make-up helping to show how the weight of the office hangs heavy over the Dictator-in-Chief. Out goes rolling in the hay with Pendola; in comes a socialist/ fascist/populist presidency that exists only to help the well-being of the lower- and middle-class. Like I said, fantasy.


"Are you there, God? It's me, Judson."
The movie's spiritual bent is never far from its surface (not surprising for its title, hunh?). Hammond is summoned out of his coma by the sound of a faint horn that only he can hear (Yo, Gabriel, louder!) and an invisible spirit brushing past the curtains of his open window. 

Hammond looks up from time to time for guidance whenever the horn sounds, kind of like a student of Louis Armstrong. Witnessing one such incident, Pendola describes it as "a delicious sense of lassitude." I thought I was the only person who used that phrase.


It would be worth going to trial just to stand
in this cool courtroom.
Gabriel Over the White House is stuffed with startling imagery. The pre-coma President Hammond playing with his nephew, oblivious to a passionate radio speech by the leader of the million-man march of the unemployed and homeless; gangsters shooting up the White House, leading to an art deco/expressionistic court-martial; and the federally-sanctioned firing squad execution of said gangsters -- apparently in New York's Battery Park! -- with the Statue of Liberty in the background. Irony? Approval? All I can do is refer you to Hammond's right-hand man, Hartley Beekman, who's happy to "cut the red tape of legal proceedings." That's one way of looking at it, chum.


Sometimes this doesn't seem like such a
bad idea.
As it is today, 1933 was an uneasy time for America, with an angry, ignored populace ripe for a major shake-up from politics as usual. It was, after all, the year that also saw the release of Columbia's laudatory documentary Mussolini Speaks!, narrated by a gushing Lowell Thomas. Gabriel Over the White House speaks to that unease in a way few fictional movies of the time dared -- especially one released by a major studio like M-G-M.

Whatever you think of his methods, Pres. Judson Hammond puts the working man first. Our two major presidential candidates are in it to satisfy their egos and lust for power. There's only one cure for what ails America: Make America Hammond Again! 

And while you're at it, let's see some government-run marijuana stores. You just know they've got the best stuff.

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