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Hamptons Life

Mar 11, 2019 11:15 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Sag Harbor Cinema Screens ‘Gabriel Over the White House’

Mar 11, 2019 12:18 PM

In the heyday of the Great Depression and during the defining first 100 days of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, MGM movie studio released a surreal, fascinating and, according to some historians, one of the most important political movies made in precode Hollywood.

It’s called “Gabriel Over the White House,” and on Sunday, March 17 the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts center will screen the 1933 film at the Pierson High School auditorium as part of its “Present Tense” series of film screenings. Directed by Gregory La Cava, written by Carey Wilson (from a novel by T.F. Tweed) and financially backed by billionaire media mogul William Randolph Hearst—who also contributed uncredited creative input—the rarely seen and fascinatingly strange “Gabriel Over The White House” was made a year prior to the adoption of the Motion Pictures Production Code’s censorship guidelines which came about in 1934.“Gabriel Over The White House” tells the story of Judson Hammond (Walter Huston), a recently elected American president and a hack, who responds to the unemployment, hunger, racketeering and foreign debt plaguing the nation with nothing but optimistic banalities. But all that changes after a violent car crash leaves president Hammond in a coma. When he awakens (with help of divine intervention) he is a determined man of action and quickly dissolves his entire cabinet of “big-business lackeys.” When Congress starts impeachment proceedings, he reacts with a string of less than democratic measures.

Following a prescreening of the film, an infuriated Louis B. Mayer purportedly intimated to his assistant to “put that picture back in its can, take it back to the studio, and lock it up!”

Nevertheless, the film was released a few weeks after Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration. According to the Library of Congress: “The good news: Hammond reduces unemployment, lifts the country out of Depression, battles gangsters and Congress, and brings about world peace.

“The bad news: he’s Mussolini.”

The screening of “Gabriel Over the White House” will include a special presentation created for the Sag Harbor Cinema by Bruce Goldstein, repertory program director for the Film Forum in New York City.

“With its wealth of programs, rich history and loyal audience, New York’s Film Forum has been a great inspiration in our conception of the Sag Harbor Cinema. Bruce Goldstein is one of the geniuses in the business, a great showman as much as he is a sophisticated film historian who strongly believes that the best place to see movies is with other people, on a big screen, in a theater,” said Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan, head of the Sag Harbor Cinema’s programming committee, in a statement. “Bruce is also a friend and a personal inspiration of mine. I am thrilled about the special program he is bringing to us for the Present Tense series, and I hope this is just the beginning of a long collaboration that can flourish once the new Sag Harbor Cinema will be completed and open.”

“Gabriel Over the White House” will be screened at Pierson High School Auditorium on Sunday, March 17 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15. Purchase at sagharborcinema.org.

The “Present Tense” series is an adventurous mix of new releases, classics, documentaries and rarely screened subversive comedies which speak in a variety of ways and styles to our present political and cultural time. The next film of the series on March 31 will be HBO’s adaptation of Robert Schennkan’s Tony winning play “All the Way,” starring Bryan Cranston as Lyndon B. Johnson.

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