Gabriel Over the White House (1933) Review

Director: Gregory La Cava

Genre(s): Drama, Fantasy

Runtime: 86 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The depths of the Great Depression were desperate times, and many looked to political radicalism for salvation. This sentiment is reflected in the 1933 film Gabriel Over the White House, which tells the tale of a hack politician named Judson Hammond (Walter Huston) who becomes President of the United States. After an automobile accident, he becomes possessed by an angel and transforms into a dictator to solve the country’s problems. The movie is cheering for him every step of the way. Yes, this is a motion picture that actually exists.

This is a flick that celebrates strongman tactics, yet I hesitate to call it “fascist” like many reviewers do. The film’s ideology lacks the violence-for-the-sake-of-violence, Social Darwinistic, xenophobic palingenetic ultra-nationalism that real fascism revolves around. I don’t agree with Gabriel Over the White House‘s politics, but its beliefs seem to be closer to general authoritarianism than the fascistic or communistic strains of totalitarianism that were threatening to take over the planet at the time of its release (not that that makes it okay). It really goes nuts when the United States decides to get foreign governments to repay their debts.

This piece of propaganda is described as a “must-see curio” by the DVD case, and I agree. Released the same month that Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated as the President of the United States, American faith in democracy was perhaps at its nadir due to the devastation caused by the Great Depression. Fortunately, Roosevelt would restore the nation’s faith in its institutions without resorting to dictatorial methods, proving that the regime envisioned by Gabriel Over the White House was unnecessary.

This political drama, released during the Pre-Code era in the early 1930s before the enforcement of the Production Code, is a doozie. Sure, its ideas are wrong, but it’s very entertaining, with lofty dialogue and the occasional moment of action. It needs to be seen by more people to show just how close many of the countries of the Free World came to succumbing to dictatorship during the 1930s. This is an important historical document.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

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