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Keeper of the Flame 1942


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The first time I saw this movie, I wasn't sure if I liked it, but upon re-watching it (dvr'd from KH day) I find that George Cukor was nearly right in his assessment; he said it was "three quarters of a good movie." I disagree slightly--I saw it's closer to 9/10ths of a good movie, though I'm not sure I like Hepburn in the role of the Great Man's widow--I don't think she was really up to the dramatics at this point in her career.

 

Here's the first 9/10ths of the plot: A Great Man, Robert Forrest, is killed in a tragic accident. The Nation mourns; everyone from school children to the elderly believed him to be just what America needs, especially given the situation in Europe?a True American and Defender of Freedom. A hoard of journalists descend upon his hometown for the funeral, including Spencer Tracy as a renowned journalist in the Edward R Murrow mold, who has just come from Germany and witnessed first hand what the Fascists are doing. He is determined to write a bio of Forrest, to give the American people something to believe in as the world heads towards war, but finds the widow (Hepburn) very reluctant to help him out. He persists and begins to discover that the Great Man, like all Great Men, had some very dirty little secrets (as does his widow) and is determined to find out the truth.

 

Up to this point a very good noir-ish suspense film and had they continued in this vein, it would have worked. The film starts dark and gets darker, with a little comic relief in the form of Audrey Christie in the role of the wise-cracking female journalist. Little by little, the story comes out?first Forrest?s devoted press agent tries to side-track Tracy with irrelevancies and when he persists, urges Hepburn to cooperate. She too, tries to distract Tracy with superficial documents and texts of Forrest?s speeches, all of which he could easily get from public domain sources. He asks about the Revolutionary War fort on the property and is told that it?s been locked since Forrest?s death (the key is lost) but then sees smoke coming from the chimney. He talks to a woman who claims to be Mrs Forrest and turns out to he Forrest?s demented mother, who reveals a number of clues to the man who was Forrest and also lays suspicion on the grieving widow. Did she have anything to do with his death? And why is her cousin hanging around all the time? Where do they disappear to a few days after the funeral?

 

It is at this point (or shortly thereafter) that the film goes wrong. The film whips out its red, white and blue hat and goes for the anti-fascist gusto, full-throttle. In an extended (and somewhat boring) exposition, Hepburn reveals the truth about her husband and it is NOT what Tracy was expecting to hear. She is immediately killed and all the evidence is destroyed, but Tracy writes the truth anyway. And of course, America buys it and the widow, not the Great Man becomes the heroine.

 

The final 10 minutes or so of the film is one of MGM?s somewhat belated attempts at getting the anti-Nazi message out there?Warner?s had been making anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi films for several years. While this is admirable, I don?t think this was the film to do it.

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