God’s President

Gabriel Over the White House: written by Carey Wilson and Bertram Bloch, based on the novel Rinehard by T.F. Tweed; directed by Gregory La Cava; starring Walter Huston (President Jud Hammond), Karen Morley (Pendola ‘Pendie’ Molloy), Franchot Tone (Hartley ‘Beek’ Beekman), C. Henry Gordon (Nick Diamond) and David Landau (John Bronson) (1933): 

Made by William Randolph Heart’s production company in 1932, this movie was held back by its Hollywood distributor until March 1933 because the studio head, Louis B. Mayer, was a staunch Republican who didn’t want this movie released during Herbert Hoover’s presidency. It’s certainly one of the oddest movies of the 1930’s, a paean to fascism and socialism in the service of the Greater Good.

Walter Huston plays Jud Hammond, a corrupt President who does whatever big money and the leaders of his (unnamed) political party tell him to do. But then he gets in a car accident and, instead of dying, emerges from his coma as Super-President!

After firing everyone in his Cabinet except his personal secretary “Beek” Beekman and his former lover Pendula (!) Molloy, Hammond leaps into action to save America from despair, starvation, civil unrest, and organized crime. He declares martial law, making himself the de facto emperor of America, and then puts all the unemployed men to work in his new peacetime army of the unemployed. Soon, the President has opened up all manner of cans of whoop-ass on the forces of evil in this world.

Does the newly energized President have enemies? Sure. But he’s also got help. Angelic help. Though we never see the archangel Gabriel, the movie makes it pretty clear that the President has divine help in his campaign to save America and, indeed, the world. Apparently, God is a socialist with fascist tendencies. Who knew?

Huston. always a fine actor (father of John Huston, grandfather of Anjelica) makes a convincing President here under the circumstances — indeed his acting is finer and subtler than the film itself. Huston makes Hammond slightly off-kilter while he’s possessed by Gabriel (or getting advice from him, or whatever’s going on) — he really does seem to be receiving direction from outside his body, direction only he can hear. The rest of the cast is liveable, with a young Franchot Tone solid as idealistic secretary Beekman. All this in less than 90 minutes!!! Recommended.

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