Friday, September 19, 2008

Walter Huston in Gabriel Over the White House (1933)

Walter Huston, Franchot Tone and Karen Morley in Gabriel Over the White House (1933)

The Movie: Shaky financial institutions, a do-nothing Congress, a constitution in shreds, combat veterans denied their due, and a leader who might be an inspired visionary, a glad-hander controlled by big business or a fanatic. No, I'm not talking about an election year news program, but about one of the strangest and more compelling movies made during the studio era.

When this movie came out, playwright and critic Stark Young would write in The New Republic that the movie "represents pretty well its public". The usually measured columnist Walter Lippman expressed the belief around this time that "a mild form of dictatorship will help us over the roughest spots in the road ahead." The New York Times even said that the film "is a curious, somewhat fantastic and often melodramatic story, but nevertheless one which at this time is very interesting."

1933, the year of this film's release, seems to have had an air of tension similar, some felt, to when the fascisti marched on Rome a decade earlier, or when the Kremlin was taken by the Bolsheviks, but in actuality, it had as much to do with jockeying for position with a new administration in Washington as it did with feeding the public taste for fantasy.

Gabriel Over the White House (1933), (which is on at 12am EDT on 9/18), should never have been made, and least of all by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios. The general manager of MGM, Louis B. Mayer, was staunchly Republican and prided himself on his friendship with President Herbert Hoover. The status conscious Mayer was thrilled that he'd been asked to stay at the White House and that Hoover had been his guest in LA. Even as the country and the world slid into a steep economic descent after 1929, Mayer shared the faith of Hoover that Americans' latent pioneer qualities would help the strongest pull themselves out of the Depression without government intervention. Well, they generally didn't call it Social Darwinism back then, but you get the gist of it...more on the Movie Morlocks at TCM

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