Gabriel Over the White House (recorded off of American Movie Classics). [Category: Public Service]

This feature film qualifies as ephemera because William Randolph Hearst was responsible for it, making it to further his political philosophies. It was made during the height of the Depression and it stars Walter Huston as President Judson Hammond. The America portrayed here is very bleak and on the verge of total societal breakdown, reminding us of how desperate times were during the Depression. President Hammond starts out as a career politician who is more interested in old-boy cronyism than in the serious problems facing the country. That is, until he gets into a car accident and gets a bump on the head. That bump on the head totally changes his personality, and suddenly he becomes a strong leader who pushes through radical reforms in the government, even to the point of getting Congress to retire, proclaiming martial law, and making himself dictator. Although what he accomplishes is good for the country and its people for the most part (he puts the unemployed back to work through a “construction army”, makes out-and-out war on gangsters, and gets foreign nations to pay off their debts through a program of extreme disarmament), his methods are disturbing, especially from today’s perspective of having had very bad experiences with dictators. Of course, some of his ideas would end up being put into practice in far less radical forms by FDR, and his speech about the future of war is downright prophetic. The film is great for showing us just how desperate times were during the Depression, a time that tends to be romanticized today. And it’s a fascinating oddity, feature film though it may be, and I think that qualifies it as ephemera.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: *****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: *****.


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