Gabriel Over the White House

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Gabriel Over the White House
Directed by Gregory La Cava
Produced by Walter Wanger
William Randolph Hearst
Screenplay by Carey Wilson
Bertram Bloch
Based on Gabriel over the White House: A Novel of the Presidency
1933 novel
by T.F. Tweed
Starring Walter Huston
Karen Morley
Franchot Tone
Music by William Axt
Cinematography Bert Glennon
Edited by Basil Wrangell
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn Mayer
Release date
March 31, 1933
Running time
86 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $232,400[1]

Gabriel Over the White House is a 1933 American pre-Code film starring Walter Huston that has been described as a "bizarre political fantasy"[2] and which "posits a favorable view of fascism."[3]

The movie was directed by Gregory La Cava, produced by Walter Wanger[2] and written by Carey Wilson based upon the novel Rinehard by Thomas Frederic Tweed, who did not receive screen credit (the film's opening credits say "based on the anonymous novel, Gabriel Over the White House") and received the financial backing and creative input of William Randolph Hearst. The supporting cast features Karen Morley, Franchot Tone, C. Henry Gordon, and David Landau.


When the film opens, U.S. President Judson C. 'Judd' Hammond (Huston) (possibly a reference to Judson Harmon) [speculation?] is variously described as "a Hoover-like partisan hack"[4] or "basically a do-nothing crook, based on, to some extent, Warren G. Harding." Then he causes a near-fatal automobile accident and goes into a coma. Through what Portland State University instructor[5] Dennis Grunes calls "possible divine intervention,"[6] (characterized by a breeze blowing through a closed window) Hammond awakens as a decisive man of action.

President Hammond makes "a political U-turn,"[3] purging his entire cabinet of "big-business lackeys." When Congress impeaches him, he responds by declaring martial law, dissolving the legislative branch, assuming the “temporary” power to make laws as he "transforms himself into an all-powerful dictator."[7] He orders the formation of a new “Army of Construction” answerable only to him and nationalizes the manufacture and sale of alcohol.[4]

The reborn Hammond's policies include "suspension of civil rights and the imposition of martial law by presidential fiat."[8] He "tramples on civil liberties,"[9] "revokes the Constitution, becomes a reigning dictator," and employs "brown-shirted storm troopers", called "Federal Police",[10] led by the President's top aide, Hartley 'Beek' Beekman (Tone).

When he meets with resistance from the organized crime syndicate of ruthless Al Capone analog Nick Diamond, the President "suspends the law to arrest and execute 'enemies of the people' as he sees fit to define them," with Beekman handing "down death sentences in his military star chamber" in a "show trial [that] resembles those designed to please a Stalin, a Hitler or a Chairman Mao,"[8] after which the accused are immediately lined up against a wall behind the courthouse and "executed[4]by firing squad."[11]

By threatening world annihilation with America’s newest and most deadly secret weapon, Hammond then blackmails the world into disarmament, ushering in global peace.[12] At the very moment the other nations of the world finish acceding to his "covenant" of world disarmament, Hammond, his supposed divine mission completed, suffers a fatal stroke which also seems to be divinely attributable (again a breeze through a closed window), and the story ends.

Despite revoking the Constitution and all the other actions he has taken, Hammond is not portrayed as the villain of the piece, but rather as the one who "solves all of the nation's problems",[10] "bringing peace to the country and the world,"[13] and is universally acclaimed “one of the greatest presidents who ever lived.”[11]

The Library of Congress comments:


Cast notes:

Context and analysis[edit]

Controversial since the time of its release, Gabriel Over the White House is widely acknowledged to be an example of totalitarian propaganda. The decision to buy the story was made by producer Walter Wanger. After two weeks of script preparation, Wanger secured the financial backing of media magnate William Randolph Hearst.[citation needed]

Although an internal MGM synopsis had labeled the script "wildly reactionary and radical to the nth degree,"[15] studio boss Louis B. Mayer "learned only when he attended the Glendale, California preview that Hammond gradually turns America into a dictatorship" writes film historian Barbara Hall.[16] "Mayer was furious, telling his lieutenant, 'Put that picture back in its can, take it back to the studio, and lock it up!'"[17]

Released only a few weeks after Franklin Roosevelt's inauguration, the film was labeled by The New Republic as "a half-hearted plea for Fascism".[18] Its purpose, agreed The Nation, was "to convert innocent American movie audiences to a policy of fascist dictatorship in this country."[19] Newsweek's Jonathan Alter concurred in 2007 that the movie was meant to "prepare the public for a dictatorship."[11] "An aroma of fascism clung to the heavily edited release print", according to Leff.[17]

The film was released in Britain,[when?] but was not a commercial success. Newsreel film of the Royal Navy was spliced into the yacht sequence in the British version, implying that both Britain and the United States were co-operating to obtain disarmament. The movie made a net profit of $206,000.[1]


  1. ^ a b Bernstein p434
  2. ^ a b Clute and Grant, 380
  3. ^ a b Schroeder, Alan (2004). Celebrity-in-chief: how show business took over the White House. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. p. 287. ISBN 0-8133-4137-X. Retrieved August 21, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c Goldberg, 302
  5. ^ Instructor Biography: Dennis Grunes Archived 2011-07-20 at the Wayback Machine., Portland State University
  6. ^ Dennis Grunes, Gabriel Over the White House,; accessed August 26, 2017.
  7. ^ "Gabriel Over the White House". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved August 21, 2010. 
  8. ^ a b Glenn Erickson (November 4, 2009). "Gabriel Over the White House". Retrieved August 21, 2010. 
  9. ^ Sachleben, Mark; Kevan M. Yenerall (2004). Seeing the bigger picture: understanding politics through film & television. Peter Lang. p. 38. ISBN 0-8204-6248-9. Retrieved August 21, 2010. 
  10. ^ a b "Gabriel Over the White House". Retrieved 2010-07-26. 
  11. ^ a b c Alter, 6
  12. ^ David Walsh (April 20, 2005). "An Interview with Louis Pizzitola, author of Hearst Over Hollywood". World Socialist Web Site. International Committee of the Fourth International. Retrieved 2010-07-28. 
  13. ^ Giovacchini, Saverio (April 2004). "Book Review: Benjamin L. Alpers, Dictators, Democracy, & American Public Culture: Envisioning the Totalitarian Enemy, 1920s-1950s". The American Historical Review. American Historical Association. 109 (2): 553. doi:10.1086/530428. 
  14. ^ "Film Series on Religion and the Founding of the American Republic". Library of Congress. Retrieved August 21, 2010. 
  15. ^ Black, Gregory D. (1996). Hollywood Censored: Morality Codes, Catholics, and the Movies. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 138. ISBN 0-521-56592-8. Retrieved August 22, 2010. 
  16. ^ Introduction: History of Cinema: Series 1: Hollywood and the Production Code, Primary Source Media's Online Guides (Gale, Inc., 2007)
  17. ^ a b Leff, Leonard J.; Jerold Simmons (2001). The dame in the kimono: hollywood, censorship, and the production code. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. p. 39. ISBN 0-8131-9011-8. Retrieved August 21, 2010. 
  18. ^ Ron Briley, "The Sun Comes Out Tomorrow," in Young, Nancy Beck; Pederson, William D.; Daynes, Byron W., eds. (2001). Franklin D. Roosevelt and the shaping of American political culture. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe. p. 24. ISBN 0-7656-0620-8. Retrieved August 22, 2010. 
  19. ^ Birdwell, Michael E. (2000). Celluloid Soldiers: The Warner Bros. Campaign Against Nazism. New York: NYU Press. p. 15. ISBN 0-8147-9871-3. Retrieved 22 August 2010. 


  • Alter, Jonathan (2007). The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 432. ISBN 0-7432-4601-2. 
  • Bernstein, Matthew (2000). Walter Wanger, Hollywood Independent. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. 488. ISBN 0-8166-3548-X. 
  • Clute, John; John Grant (1999). The encyclopedia of fantasy. New York: Macmillan. p. 1079. ISBN 0-312-19869-8. 

External links[edit]