Stranger Bedfellows

(Above: Peter Sellers as Chauncey Gardiner. Source: Amazon)

Happy Election Eve.

It’s often said that truth is stranger than fiction, and the current political climate seems to be doubling-down on that cliché.

On Friday, we identified two classic fictional political portraits – The Great McGinty and Dave – designed to restore your faith in cinema, if not in the political process.

In the final of a two-part series, we present two more classics you can stream: the satire Being There and the decidedly more ominous Gabriel Over the White House.

Being There – or being square! Chauncey Gardiner, Presidential Consultant & Advisor

Summary: Peter Sellers as Chauncey Gardiner is a Zen-filled breath of fresh air in Being There, a 1979 political satire. The mysterious Chauncey is praised for his strategic and spiritual guidance to acolytes across the political spectrum. One needs only to ask and take the time to listen to Chauncey’s profound and nurturing philosophies on both politics and life itself. Often speaking in horticultural metaphors, his patience and clarity is embraced by the elites of DC’s governing party and feared by their opponents. Ultimately, he provides counsel and solace to the dying President Rand, played by Melvyn Douglas.

Backstory: Chauncey’s guileless persona is part of an ultra-simple mentality, bordering on savant syndrome with a specialty in gardening. In fact, Chauncey is a displaced gardener uprooted from his childhood home when the lady of the house dies in her old age. His middle-aged worldview is based solely on the hands-on relationship he has with his plants and flowers – and with television. As Chauncey tells anyone who will listen, “I like to watch.”

You can rent Being There starting at $2.99 from Amazon, YouTube and other sites.

Fashionable Fascism: President Judson Hammond

Summary: In 1933’s Gabriel Over the White House, a depression-era story, President Hammond, played by Walter Houston, is a lackluster political hack. Without a true sense of dedication or purpose, Hammond punches the Presidential time clock while the country struggles with a disastrous economy. But after surviving a near-fatal car crash, he determines to seek redemption for both himself and his ailing national constituency. Unfortunately, the manifestation of his vision and plans for turning around the country’s economy begin to look a lot like fascism – and he like the country’s dictator.

Here, in a clip that seems all too real, President Hammond squares off with a Congress that wants to impeach him. Notice that the fictional president starts his address with an arboreal reference (viva Chauncey!)

Background: Given the contemporaneous rise of Hitler and Mussolini, Gabriel Over the White House was not especially well received. American audiences probably started disliking the film about the time Hammond’s character dissolves Congress, revokes the Constitution and declares martial law.

You can only stream Gabriel Over the White House if you’re a Comcast subscriber, where it’s available via xFinity. Otherwise, you can get it on DVD.

(Note: This article is an updated version of a previously published article.)

About Charlie Greenberg

Charlie Greenberg is a NY-based theater and instrumental composer.

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