05 July 2018

This looks like a movie for our times - updated

YouTube link

The subtitles are in Spanish, but the movie was thoroughly American - and thoroughly controversial, as explained at Den of Geek:
In 1933’s Gabriel Over the White House, President Judson Hammond (played by Walter Huston), having been possessed by the Angel Gabriel, brings the Depression to an end by dissolving the Legislative and judicial branches of the federal government, concentrating all political power within himself. He then declares martial law, single-handedly battles the mob, puts the Army of the Unemployed to work on a public works project, and uses the threat of military force to strong arm the other nations of the world into signing a peace treaty. Made in the depths of the Great Depression and confronting many of the problems facing Americans at the time, it’s all portrayed as a very good thing.
Upon seeing it, an historian I know noted that it was the only film he could think of in which fascism, was presented not only as a cure for America’s troubles, but as a force of goodness and light working to protect the common man. 

The film’s message was a popular one upon its initial release, but then that damn Hitler had to come along and ruin everybody’s dream. Warner Brothers pulled the film out of circulation for the next 70 years.
Listen to Walter Huston's rhetoric in the closing minutes of the clip.  This is a film that would really whip up the fervor of this country's red and blue factions - as if that needed doing.

I've been unable to find a (free) version to view.  It's not listed on Netflix, and I found only excerpts on YouTube.   Amazon offers a DVD for purchase, but I couldn't locate a free streaming option on Prime.

Found at the incomparable Neatorama.

Addendum:  A tip of the blogging hat to reader KOWilhelm, who emailed this to me:

I see that on July 7, 2018, TCM will be showing this movie:

The TCM article at the link provides this additional information:
Filmed before Roosevelt took office as President of the United States, Gabriel Over the White House was a collaboration between producer Walter Wanger and publisher William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan Studios, whose films were distributed by MGM. Hearst's political views were well known through the editorials he published in his own papers and when he read Rinehard, a novel by British novelist Thomas F. Tweed, Hearst knew he had found the perfect vehicle to express his views on the state of the nation. President Judson Hammond (played by Walter Huston in the film) is the total autocrat: he storms into the House of Representatives and declares a state of national emergency, convincing the lawmakers to grant him absolute power. Freely adapting Jefferson's concept of democracy, which was based on "the greatest good for the greatest number," President Hammond is able to smash through bureaucratic roadblocks, gun down gangsters without a trial, and bully the world into meeting his demands. By the end, he has solved the unemployment problem and enforced a worldwide disarmament but dies a martyr for his efforts. It's easy to see the appeal President Hammond had for an all-powerful newspaper tycoon like Hearst.

Louis B. Mayer, on the other hand, was a staunch Republican and was appalled by Gabriel Over the White House. "Put that picture in its can. Take it back and lock it up!" was the directive he reportedly gave Eddie Mannix, his top executive, after screening it for the first time. Mayer considered it an attack on President Hoover and demanded extensive retakes on the film before he would release it; the theory being that Hoover would be out of the White House by the time Mayer allowed the film to open theatrically...
[Fascinating that in that era, William Randolph Hearst, a Democrat (elected to Congress) loved the movie, while a Republican found the movie's concept to be appalling"Lock it up! no less !!]
Ironically, Gabriel Over the White House turned out to be one of the biggest box office hits of 1933; its topical subject matter obviously spoke to audiences who felt the need for strong leadership after the economic chaos of the Great Depression... One thing almost every critic agreed on, however, was Walter Huston's mesmerizing performance as President Hammond; his metamorphosis from a party stooge who enjoys detective magazines to a messianic leader is completely credible, despite its outlandish conception... Within three years, he would be named Best Actor of the year by the New York Film Critics for Dodsworth (1936) and go on to win Oscar nominations for his work in Dodsworth, All That Money Can Buy (1941), and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Still, Huston was always partial to Gabriel Over the White House since it ended up securing him an invitation to the White House for drinks with President Roosevelt, who was a big fan of the film
I've got my DVR set for Saturday.

Addendum #2:  Even better - an anonymous reader found the movie online and not behind a paywall. 


  1. Sounds like the anti-christ to me....

  2. problem...reaction...solution - hegelian dialectic

  3. Another Depression movie for our times, reflecting a time when socialism was a more vibrant proposal for what ailed the country. Tip of the hat to King Vidor.


  4. It appears to be available in it's entirety here:


  5. One has to appreciate that the Republicans and Democrats have largely exchanged roles in american at least 2 times. In the early days, Democrats were the party of the southern plantation owners. Lincoln was a republican not a democrat. This seems incomprehensible to the Democratic base now. It was Richard Nixons "southern strategy" that initiated the flip, but it took many years after that to complete the re-alignment of the political spectrum. But scroll back on that and look at jefferson-- he was the champion of the poor residents, not the plantation owners (even though he himself was a plantation owner) and he was opposed to the bankers and strong federal law and order types.

    Thus it's not actually surprising to see authoritarians being the democrats and the opposition to that being the Republicans. TImes change. in our era the reverse is true. But recall that in the McGovern and Humphrey era, the idea of imposing progressive ideas by force (desegregation and integration) made them the authoritarians even if it was intended to be progressive (Not unlike the notions communists espoused regarding the good intentions of an authoritarian system for the good of the people, though I would never call them communist).

    The one that gets me, when I argue with elderly relatives is their confirmed belief that Republican party isn't the profligate bust the budget party. It used to be the democrats spent like a drunken sailor but since the Clinton era they are the the fiscally prudent party. But Weirdly people can't see the sea change.


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