Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Gabriel Over the White House


A very strange movie. Walter Huston is the newly-elected president. He seems a jovial fellow, a back-slapping politician. Then he gets a head injury in a car crash, and when he comes out of the coma he is a changed man, a driven man, a man who is determined to get America out of the Great Depression by any means necessary. And oh brother! The means …

First he fires his entire cabinet. He declares martial law because of the economic emergency, goes before Congress and somehow (this is the part I found most laughable) get them to adjourn for the duration of the crisis.

Now he can get things done, without that meddling other branch of government. He gets around gangsters and their shady lawyers by trying the hoodlums in military court martials, and then pretty much having them marched outside, stood up against the wall, and shot.

To add one extra topping of weirdness to the film, it is strongly implied that it was the intervention of an angel that caused his change. Therefore, the Big Guy in the Sky must approve of his dictatorial methods. He’s on a mission from God! Shades of the Blues Brothers!

The attraction of fascism during hard times is a real siren song, and always leads to the same fate of the sailors who went too close to them. The fiction of a “benevolent dictator” is an enduring one. I can’t think of one, off-hand, though I know of a few who started out with the needs of the people in mind. But absolute power corrupts absolutely. One’s head swells, one begins to think one can solve all problems at a stroke. The story of All the King’s Men is a perfect example. Willie Stark starts out with the best of intentions. He’s going to throw the rascals out (just as Trump promises to do), drain the swamp of the state house. And it can work, for a while, to seduce the suckers even more. Mussolini did make the trains run on time. So did Hitler, straight to the death camps. We have just elected a man like that, and the future of this country is in doubt.

What was even more startling about the story is that Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt were staunchly behind this project. FDR even did some re-writes to bring out the points he wanted to make. I don’t know just how long the Roosevelt’s flirted with disbanding the Congress, sending the Supreme Court on a long, long, maybe permanent vacation, and sending soldiers crashing into private homes, but the crisis was really, really bad, and there seemed no way to solve it other than drastic measures. Luckily FDR finally decided on the CCC, the REA, the CWA, the WPA, the Wagner Act, and the FSA, among other programs instead of jackboots stomping down American streets. But it was close-run thing and we could easily have ended up goose-stepping down Pennsylvania to raise our right arms to our new Tsar, Comrade Roosevelt. I’m sure the designers would have crafted a swastika that didn’t look so harsh. Maybe with stars and stripes on it, like the new flag Trump is designing for his big new show: “Wait’ll you get a load of AMERICA 2.0. You’ll tune in every Sunday night for the weekly raghead flogging! What could be more fun? Bring the kiddies!