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Gabriel over the White House

Gabriel over the White House(1933)


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Although onscreen credits list the author of the film's source as "anonymous," Thomas Tweed is mentioned in the copyright entry and other sources as the novel's author. According to New York Times, because Tweed was British, the American edition of his novel was partly rewritten by John Billings, an American. It is not known on which edition the film was based. The title of the British edition of Tweed's book was Rinehard. Although he is not credited on the film, Gabriel over the White House was producer Walter Wanger's first assignment for M-G-M. Daily Variety's preview running time of 102 minutes suggests that the picture was cut significantly before its general release.
       The film's protest march of the "army of the unemployed" was no doubt inspired by the "Bonus March" of 1932. In the summer of 1932, a group of 12,000-14,000 impoverished World War I veterans, known as the "Bonus Army," marched on Washington, D.C. to induce the United States Congress to appropriate funds for the immediate payment of bonuses that had been promised to them as a reward for their military service. When Congress refused to pay, half of the marchers went home, while the other half was driven out of Washington by the U.S. Army, who, under orders from President Herbert Hoover and led by Douglas MacArthur, used tear gas and tanks. In February 1933, while this film was being shot, Prohibition was repealed through the 21st Amendment to the Constitution.
       In a letter dated January 29, 1933 contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Dr. James Wingate, Director of Studio Relations of the AMPP, suggested to M-G-M production executive Irving G. Thalberg that in the script "every effort be made to stress the constructive elements." He continues: "Even the preliminary portrayal of distressing conditions should be treated in such a way as not to over-emphasize organized discontent. We of course feel nobody...would want to do anything that might foment violence against the better elements of established government...." Wingate also wrote to Will H. Hays, president of the MPDDA, in January and February 1933 to complain that the script contained "dangerous material," in particular its depiction of the "dismissal of Congress and assumption of dictatorship by the President, [and] the institution of court martials in peace time." Wingate felt that the "portrayal of a Congress so ineffective that it has to be dismissed by a president, might possibly lead toward the enactment of legislation adversely affecting the motion picture industry." Although Wingate later assured Hays that changes had been made in the script, he wrote to M-G-M head Louis B. Mayer on February 16, 1933 and expressed concern that because of the attempted assassination of President-Elect Franklin D. Roosevelt the day before by Giuseppe Zangara, a scene in the script in which the President is shot at while riding in his automobile should be rewritten. That scene was eventually altered, and after several other minor changes were made by the studio, Wingate complimented Thalberg on his "excellent picture."
       Modern sources add the following information about the production: William Randolph Hearst, whose money backed M-G-M's Cosmopolitan brand, wrote some of Huston's presidential speeches in the film. Some modern sources claim that Hearst was responsible for the premise of the picture and used his influence to have his political views presented on screen. Louis B. Mayer, a staunch Republican, did not read the script prior to production and was dismayed when he became aware of its content, as he believed it was an indictment of Hoover and an endorsement of recently elected Franklin D. Roosevelt. By demanding retakes, Mayer delayed the film's release until after Hoover's exit from the White House. Modern sources also note that the British release print contained a different ending from American prints. In the British version, according to modern sources, Huston's character is shown as a dangerous schizophrenic, capable of doing good deeds only in certain phases of his illness.