Gabriel Over the White House (1933)

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"Gabriel over the White House" featured image. Detail from original movie poster.

Gabriel Over the White House (1933). 86 minutes.  Directed by Gregory La Cava.  Starring Walter Huston (as President Judson Hammond), Karen Morley (as Pendola Molloy), Franchot Tone (as Hartley Beekman), and C. Henry Gordon (as Nick Diamond).

“The good news: he reduces unemployment, lifts the country out of the Depression, battles gangsters and Congress, and brings about world peace.  The bad news: he’s Mussolini.”

Film Series on Religion and the Founding
of the American Republic, Library of Congress

Gabriel Over the White House has been called one of the most bizarre movies of the 1930s.  It is also the rare film that people will stress is notable but not many will say they actually liked.  The movie focuses on a Depression-era American president who, following a car accident, appears to be possessed by an other-worldly spirit and is turned into a raging totalitarian dictator who ameliorates hard times by doing away with Congressional, and other, limitations on his power.  Among … Read the rest

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

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"The Passion of Joan of Arc." Detail from original movie poster.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928).  114 minutes.  Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer.  Starring Renée Jeanne Falconetti (as Joan of Arc), Eugène Silvain (as Évêque Pierre Cauchon), André Berley (as Jean d’Estivet), and Antonin Artaud (as Jean Massieu).  Cinematography by Rudolph Maté.

In honor of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, I am writing about a silent film that has disturbed me more than any other film, silent or otherwise, that I have seen in a long time.  It is Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc.  In response to the film’s intense emotional focus, Roger Ebert wrote, “Perhaps the secret of Dreyer’s success is that he asked himself, ‘What is this story really about?’  And after he answered that question, he made a movie about absolutely nothing else.”  Ebert does not explicitly tell us what that answer is, but I have an idea.  Dreyer has made a movie that is about a horrifying … Read the rest

The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

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"The Great Ziegfeld" featured image. Detail from original movie poster.

The Great Ziegfeld (1936). 185 minutes.  Directed by Robert Z. Leonard.  Starring William Powell (as Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.), Luise Rainer (as Anna Held), Myrna Loy (as Billie Burke), and Frank Morgan (as Billings).

If you enjoy the movies of the 1930s, it would be wrong for you not to see The Great Ziegfeld at some point.  It is bloated, to be sure, and many of its historical and biographical details are inaccurate, but it was financially one of the most successful films of its decade, and among its many honors, it was the first musical for which a performer won an Academy Award (Luise Rainer for Best Actress; the movie also won for Best Picture).  It features many phenomenal musical numbers, including the famous “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody,” in which performers dance and sing on a slowly turning wedding cake-like set.  The “Pretty Girl” sequence alone reportedly cost $220,000 to make at the time (close to $3.75 … Read the rest