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May 30, 2011

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Simon Abrams

I really liked this film. It's screwy.

lipranzer

It's been a few years since I saw this film, but I'm afraid I thought it was too pat, despite the good performances by Tracy and Hepburn, and, as you say, Da Silva's creepy turn. Maybe, like WOMAN OF THE YEAR, this is one I need to revisit.

On a side note, while I certainly wouldn't put THE POWER AND THE GLORY among Sturges' best, I didn't find it "pedestrian". I found it to have some interesting ideas, narratively speaking at any rate, they just weren't very well executed. It is sort of ironic, though, that the man who'd make a film that was essentially a hymn to making people laugh during the tough times and a poke at those who tried to take it too seriously would start off his career with a "serious" film.

jbryant

Haven't seen this for several years, but thought it was pretty good. Among cast members you don't mention, I particularly liked Audrey Christie. This was her first film, and I don't really recall her anything else until SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS, in which she played Natalie Wood's mother.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Wow, that plot summary alone makes this sound awesome. Aaaaand... it's not on Netflix. Dammit!

The Siren

Glenn, more background: My trusty Hollywood Goes to War (the story of the Office of War Information) says that OWI "supplied the thinking" for this meditation on the threat of internal fascism. OWI loved it, of course, saying "native fascism, 'one of our most powerful enemies within,' would stalk the country 'in a guise of Americanism." And I was also interested in this:

"[Journalist and Roosevelt aide] Lowell Mellett did not share [OWI's] enthusiasm for the picture and even pointed out that Robert Forrest had the demagogic qualities that Franklin Roosevelt's detractors attributed to the president. And Louis B. Mayer, who others thought had Forrest's traits, was shocked at the film's identification of the rich with fascism and stormed out of the screening."

Mayer did a lot of storming out of screenings, didn't he? This one, Sunset Boulevard... But I love that theory, that Cukor and Stewart had Mayer in mind. Plausible, doncha think?

Anyway, while it does not rank with Cukor's best, I quite like Keeper of the Flame. I'm with Claire, I think there is romantic tension there, albeit of a very high-minded, non-physical variety; and the last moments before the fadeout are the essence of romance. And can Adrian get some love here? Those gowns were fabulous; Hepburn was so gorgeous in this period.

Without Love; oh man. I am gonna want some serious screencaps from that one, and you'll know exactly which ones, too. I'll reserve the rest of my thoughts.

Johan Andreasson

“Keeper of the Flame” is an odd film. I remember how surprised I was when I saw it on television many years ago knowing only that it was a Cukor film with Hepburn and Tracy. I’ve seen a couple of other American “home grown fascism” movies like “Meet John Doe” and “A Face in the Crowd” (both very good, I think), but they are more about the danger of “men of the people” populist demagogues, and I can’t think of any other U.S. movie with a fascist from the elite of society. I sometimes got the feeling that Henry Ford or W R Hearst was the model, but I don’t think it was more than possibly hinted at. “Keeper of the Flame” is also a lot more toned down than “Meet John Doe” and “A Face in the Crowd”.

I just looked up I. A. R. Wylie, the writer of the novel the film is based on, and saw that she’s also written the source material of two very good John Ford movies with political/humanist themes: “Four Sons” and “Pilgrimage”.

Claire K.

You're quite right, Siren, I should have given Adrian his due. Thus far in this viewing project, I've been most diverted by Walter Plunkett's costumes for THE SEA OF GRASS (which should be coming up here in a couple weeks), mostly I think because all the Westward-ho period stuff is so completely non-Hepburnesque. But the gowns here are, as you say, flawless.

The Siren

I love the idea of you and Glenn discussing Without Love and Sea of Grass. Not exactly a huge number of in-depth pieces around on those two films. Hell, even I never bothered to write them up. No Spencer Tracy, but would you guys consider swerving to include Undercurrent as a coda? That's a really good movie and I know Kim Morgan digs it too.

James R

"I can’t think of any other U.S. movie with a fascist from the elite of society"

Johan, you may want to check out the 1933 film "Gabriel Over the White House" for an example. Louis B. Mayer was reportedly appalled by it too, even though MGM released it.

Brian

Oh, I hope you write up "Swing Shift Cinderella"-- love that cartoon!

John Svatek

"I can’t think of any other U.S. movie with a fascist from the elite of society"

Hitchcock's "Saboteur" (1942) is another. Not a masterpiece, but underrated. The blind blacksmith oddly evoking (for me, at least) "Frankenstein." The circus troupe sequence was also well done. Worth another view, I think.

Johan Andreasson

James R: Thanks for the tip! A La Cava film with Walter Huston sounds like something I should really see.

John Svatek: Ah yes, ”Saboteur” – kind of the forgotten sibling to ”The 39 Steps” and ”North By Northwest”. I’ve seen it, and remember enjoying it, but I had forgotten the upper class fascists.

hamletta

Johan, yes! You must see "Gabriel." It is truly bizarre.

Kent Jones

Johan, the fascists in SABOTEUR are interesting. Hitchcock wanted Harry Carey for the leader, but I think Otto Kruger is very, very good, like a genteel businessman, never without a smile. I also like Alan Baxter as the nervous, soft-spoken, slightly fussy underling, and - I forget the actor) the man who darns his socks, gets Priscilla Lane (his captive) to pay him for her ice cream soda, and complains that he has to get off early so he can take his kid sister to Carnegie Hall.

jbryant

So is this a new thing the spammers do? Crib from a previous post and pretend it's a fresh contribution to the discussion, then hope we'll all see the name "cheap custom jerseys" and be sufficiently overcome with curiosity to click the name? And is there one person on earth who falls for this nonsense?

PaulJBis

jbryant, the spammers don't really care about humans seeing their message, only Googlebot. They want more links on the Web back to their site, so that Google will rank them higher in their index. Mind you, this blog adds the "NOFOLLOW" HTML attribute to those links, so Google won't take any of them into account; all the spammer is achieving is to annoy the rest of us.

Glenn Kenny

I don't mind you guys talking about my spam, but just bear in mind it looks funny after I clean the spam out, which I do every morning! And sometimes more frequently than that. Having a blog: it's work!

Johan Andreasson

Kent: It’s coming back to me now. Otto Kruger’s character is a bit like James Mason’s in “North By North West”, very polite and cultured, and of course quite nasty, but also funny. I seem to remember reading in a Hitchcock biography that the phrase “The Moron Masses”, used by Kruger in “Saboteur”, was picked up by the writer of the movie from how Hitchcock would refer in conversation to his audience. Hitchcock, with an anti-fascist record going back to his British films, and continuing in the U.S. with “Foreign Correspondent”, “Saboteur”, “Shadow of a Doubt” and “Life Boat” was apparently not letting his politically astute analysis getting in the way of his sense of humor, and this I think speaks well of him.

Kent Jones

Johan, he's a fascinating character: a gentleman rancher, maybe less cultured than old-style American patrician. "Moron masses" seems like an odd sentiment to come from a guy who thought so long and hard about his audience - sounds to me like it came straight from Dorothy Parker. Nonetheless, the speech itself is chilling. Kruger delivers it with a relaxed bonhomie that is chilling under the circumstances. He's sitting on a couch, I think, smoking a cigar, and Hitchcock holds him in a wide shot that sharply emphasizes his relaxation and comfort amidst the Fifth Avenue opulence - well-protected in a closed world.

It's a film that I've watched a more than once in the last few years, and I've really come to love it. Last year, my son and I saw Norman Lloyd going into great detail about the shooting of the Statue of Liberty sequence.

Johan Andreasson

Kent: Can’t find the book I was thinking about, but I found this on the TCM site, which may have been what I was thinking about: ”Hitchcock hated the previews imposed on him by the studios and considered audience response cards to be idiotic methods for shaping a film. After one such screening, the director muttered one of the lines from the picture, delivered by the fascist leader character: "The great masses, the moron millions."”

On Dorothy Parker’s contribution they had this: ”Hitchcock loved Dorothy Parker's script touches for “Saboteur”, particularly the scene with the circus freaks, but thought they were too subtle and mostly overlooked by the audience.”

The annoying thing with Hitchcock is that the not so famous films are always better than you remember them.

Anyway, I’ve ordered “Gabriel Over the White House” and someone I know is bound to have “Saboteur” on DVD, so I’ll make this a double feature.

jbryant

Kent: Wow, and last year Norman Lloyd was 95 or 96 years old!

A few years ago, I sat next to Lloyd at a Samuel Goldwyn theater screening of 8 1/2. I couldn't bring myself to bother him before the film started, but afterward I thought maybe I'd at least tell him how much I admired his work. Unfortunately, as soon as the credits came up, the then-octogenarian zipped past me and beat the crowd out the door. That dude must have really taken care of himself over the years.

David Ehrenstein

Mr. Lloyd is in tip-top physical and mental shape and still plays tennis every day.

Learn to Fly

Even this summary alone, it sound awesome!

David Ehrenstein

It's a deeply strange movie. Cukor made other pitch-dark dramas of note -- "Edward My Son" and "A Double Life" spring immediately to mind. But "Keeper of the Flame" has mysterious almost Jacques Rivette-like quality to it. It isn't completely successful but more than worth anyone's attention.

Ben Alpers

If memory serves, The President Vanishes (1934) also features elite American would-be fascists (like Gabriel Over the White House, this was a Walter Wanger production).

Donald Ogden Stewart, Keeper of the Flame's screenwriter, was very active in the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and was later blacklisted. I think he plays a big role in Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund's The Inquisition in Hollywood.

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