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This looks like a recap in the main page Judson Hammond has just been sworn in as President of the United States. After some huge Inaugural celebrations, we learn that he was elected with the help of a large political machine that runs his party and that he doesn't really intend to keep his campaign promises to undo the Depression. We also learn that he has a nephew, who is of uncertain importance to the plot.
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We meet his secretary, Beekman, who is new to the machine and thus still somewhat idealistic. The president makes an agreement with him: Beekman calls him Major, he calls Beekman "Beek." Beekman is held to this. We also meet a glamourous lady called Pendula Malloy, who is an old and close friend of Judd. She is called "Pendy" by her friends, and Beekman is inducted into that circle. This will be important later.
Cabinet meeting, in which the cabinet is made up entirely of machine-approved people. Jud basically signs what the machine wants him to sign. We learn later that the machine also controls Congress, so it's just signing.
A quill pen is introduced that is of historical importance. Malloy notes that Judd could use his position to sign really important bills. Judd isn't interested yet.
Press conference - which is supposed to be the only one where questions aren't submitted 24 hours in advance. The president is asked about the Unemployed Army led by Benson, which is armed and planning to march on Washington. He says he will not deal with Benson because Benson is an anarchist. He is asked about the racketeers; he says they are a local problem. A reporter named Theiss disguises a Character Filibuster on the injustice of economic inequity as a question. At the end, it is noted that "the President will not be quoted," which makes one wonder why the press conference was held.
In New York City, racketeer Nick Diamond approaches Benson and offers to provide the Unemployed Army with everything if they stay put. After all, cops watching them won't go after his operations. The leader disapproves; he wants to take this to Washington. They start the march to Washington that night. Benson is gunned down from the back of an ambulance, but insists that the movement continue without him. They do.
We cut to a presidential motorcade. Judd is the first president to drive his own car in the motorcade, and he elects to speed far ahead of it. He hits 95 mph and hopes to make 110, all on a curvy road. Suddenly, a tire blows, the car goes through a fence, and he ends up in a deep coma which he can't be taken from by human agency. Executive branch business is put on hold for a while (there is no mechanism for replacing merely indisposed presidents back in the 1930s).
Inhuman agency takes over, and the president rings the bell to the study. He is awake. But he chooses to feign being in a coma for two more weeks while he catches up on things. The coma is really irritating the press, who wants a change of news.
Malloy is one of the first to see him post-coma. She ends up hurt: not only is he cold to her, but also, he calls her "Miss Malloy." He is Not Himself. In fact, we'll soon find that most of his political views have taken a 180-degree shift.
In his first meeting with his cabinet after the coma, his Secretary of State proposes that he activate the military to stop the Unemployed Army, which is about to reach Baltimore. The president makes is clear that he sympathizes with their cause. The Secretary of State says "If you keep this up, I might be forced to resign." He is told, "Your resignation is accepted," and he is not allowed to retract it.
A press conference is held because of the resignation. The President makes it clear that he fired the Secretary of State for being unfit for office. He ends with "The President can be quoted. The president wants to be quoted!" This makes the press very happy.
The president meets with the Unemployed Army, alone. The Unemployed Army wants jobs, not welfare, so the president promises a Construction Army, which will provide jobs, food, and shelter under military-esque terms "with no profit going to everybody." The jobs will be shifted to the private sector when (if) it is ready to take them.
The president is with Malloy when the speech he wants to give Congress is given to him. He doesn't remember writing it. Then the light representing the inhuman agency shines, and he does remember it. It freaks Malloy out.
The Cabinet is discussing among themselves what to do about the president, since they clearly can't control him. The president isn't even supposed to know the discussion is being held, but Beekman goes to the room where the meeting is held and gives everyone an envelope from the president. When he's left, everyone opens their envelopes and finds a demand for resignation. The ex-Cabinet sends the word to Congress to start impeachment proceedings.
The president walks into the House of Representatives, interrupting their work on impeachment proceedings, to give them his bill for the Construction Army. They don't want to do that, so he proposes that they adjourn and the country be placed under martial law. He feels his dictatorship would be more democratic than a Congress that doesn't listen to the people. He also makes clear that he can declare martial law with or without them. Congress accedes.
All sorts of bills get passed in the early days of martial law, from the now-familiar (an equivalent to the FDIC, farm subsidies) to the alien (forbidding foreclosures of homes belonging to the unemployed)...
The president meets with Nick Diamond, asking him to leave the country. Nick declines. The president notes that, while there is now an amendment revoking Prohibition circulating, it'll take a long time for it to become law. (Nick figures three years.) The President announces that he wants a cut of the business.
A cut of the business means a Federal liquor store. The Mafia does a drive-by, shooting the place up so much a masonry column collapses. They then do a drive-by of the White House; the president and Beekman are safe, but Malloy is injured. The president then fires Beekman, only to rehire him as head of the "Federal Police."
A line of armored cars parks in front of "Amalgated Warehouse No. 1," aka Nick Diamond's headquarters. Surrender is demanded. The Mafia shoots at the armored cars with everything they have; there's damage, but nothing that can be seen in the long shots. It turns out that the armored cars have bigger guns; they blow the warehouse to rubble. Nick survives and demands a lawyer; he is informed by Beekman that he'll be court-martialed. Beekman is also judge at the courtmartial and finds Nick guilty. The Mafia is executed by firing squad in sight of the Statue of Liberty.
Meanwhile, the president has been giving serious thought about the money European countries owe America. He makes an announcement that a conference that had been planned for the White House would instead be held on a yacht.
The conference is broadcast over the radio.
He asks all the diplomats to pay their debts to America, as per the treaties everyone has signed. When they plead for various reasons that they can't, he threatens to ignore a naval non-proliferation treaty and build bigger battleships. He demonstrates the might of the airplanes of the navy, predicts that the next war will destroy humanity, and offers them the choice of letting America break the non-proliferation treaty or unilateral disarmament. They take disarmanent...
Everyone signs "The Covenant of Washington." The president goes last, using the quill to sign. He passes out right when he's finished signing, likely sending a diagonal ink mark down the page. He comes back just long enough for Malloy to say goodbye to the Judd she knew.
One of the most unintentionally scary films ever. Likely more influential at the time than we realize...
- Author Filibuster
- Came Back Wrong: Hammond is different after he wakes up.
- Character Filibuster
- Day of the Jackboot: A good thing, from the movie's perspective.
- The Mafia
- Mind Screw (if it weren't for the title and some speculation of Malloy, we'd have very little idea what happened to Judd...)
- Mood Whiplash
- State Sec: The "Federal Police". Apparently the archangel Gabriel favors summary executions.
- Title Drop
- Utopia Justifies the Means
- What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?