Friday, October 11, 2019

THE SECOND SPENCER TRACY AND KATHARINE HEPBURN BLOGATHON: Keeper of the Flame (1942)


Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood is co-hosting with Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood The Second Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn Blogathon. The celebration runs from October 11 - 13. Check out the interesting contributions HERE.


The 1942 release Keeper of the Flame is an intellectual thriller that relies on its sterling cast and atmospheric filming to maintain the audience's attention. The political nature of the script was unusual for MGM at the time. While war movies of a morale-boosting nature were among their output, only The Mortal Storm in 1940 stands out as facing harsh political realities.

I.A.R. Wylie
1885-1959

Donald Ogden Stewart, Oscar-winner for The Philadelphia Story, adapted the 1942 novel by I.A.R. Wylie. Ida Wylie was an Australian-born author whose Hollywood career began in 1915 and ended in 1950s television. It is assumed that the genesis for Ms. Wylie's story was the infamous "Business Plot" of 1933. A retired Marine General brought claims to the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities of an attempted Fascist Coup attempt against Franklin Roosevelt. Major General Smedley Butler said that he had been approached by wealthy businessmen eager to create a fascist veteran's organization with him as the figurehead. No prosecutions arose out of the allegations.

Keeper of the Flame was the second film starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn following their success with the romantic comedy Woman of the Year. The resulting film shows a struggle between the political theme vs. the romance. However, director George Cukor, working for the first time with Tracy and the 6th with Hepburn, obviously had a way with the actors and the talkie material. Cinematographer William H. Daniels created a fine moody backdrop for the unfolding tale of deceit and secrets.

Robert Forrest has lost his life in a tragic accident. Robert Forrest was an honoured veteran of WWI and a political force who founded the America Forward Association. Robert Forrest was the idol of thousands of youngsters and a beacon of light for many lost adults. One such adult is reporter Steve O'Malley played by Spencer Tracy. O'Malley has been covering the war in Europe and now he is in the small town which houses Forrest's estate to write the life story of that great man. O'Malley wants to keep the beacon burning bright.

Audrey Christie, Stephen McNally

Gloom permeates the town now crowded with newspaper reporters. Gloom is in every headline, and gloom on the faces of the people. Everyone seems to be caught up in the Robert Forrest mystique. Only reporter compatriates Jane Harding played by Audrey Christie and Freddie Ridges played by Horace (Stephen) McNally keep the detached attitude necessary to do their job.

Steve O'Malley befriends the young son of the Forrest Estate's groundskeeper, and this is his entre to the widow of Robert Forrest. Young Jeb Rickards is played by Darryl Hickman and the youngster is wracked with guilt that he didn't stop the accident. His father is played by Howard da Silva, who served with Forrest in the war and seems strangely bitter.

Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy

Christine Forrest played by Katharine Hepburn is by turn oddly aloof and effusively forthcoming. The dynamics of the household are a puzzle as Forrest's secretary played by Richard Whorf seems to hold uncommon sway, while also answering to unseen forces. Among those who lead Steve O'Malley down unexpected and terrifying revelations is a philosophical cabbie played by Percy Kilbride, a clear-eyed doctor played by Frank Craven, an angry young cousin of Christine's played by Forrest Tucker, and Margaret Wycherly as Robert Forrest's quite mad mother. These many subplots are given short shrift which tends to give the film a lopsided feel, but the core mystery retains its interest to the end.  

The chemistry between Tracy and Hepburn lights up the screen, while the romance between Steve and Christine is underplayed for the sake of the tension and secrecy. The true nature of Robert Forrest and his political ambitions will not be revealed without tragedy and loss. Steve O'Malley will write an entirely different story than the one he started out to produce.

Keeper of the Flame is, sadly, a most timely story of the manipulation of the masses for nefarious goals. The film tells its story with great polish and an atmosphere of dread that should engross many viewers.












14 comments:

  1. We have completely different takes on the film, I found it mostly dull or silly, but I enjoyed some of the supporting cast including a super young Forest Tucker and Margaret Wycherly. The film was also a learning experience. I now keep my secret plans for world conquest locked in a wife-proof cabinet.

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  2. More of Percy Kilbride and Frank Craven would go a long way to leavening the telling of this tale. I felt like the subplots involving Forest Tucker and Margaret Wycherly seemed tacked on. Perhaps their best stuff was left on the cutting room floor, and that is a shame as it would have made for a more full-blooded story.

    I don't even trust cabinets; husband-proof or not. Strange words for a blogger, but I try not to put anything in writing! Bwa-ha-ha!

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  3. I saw SPENCER TRACY & KATHARINE HEPBURN in the movie DESK SET. It had the delightful GIG YOUNG and the elegant DINA MERRILL. It also had the funny and unique JOAN BLONDELL that was in the movie with DICK POWELL that you just wrote about! P.S. I read that SHIRLEY BOOTH was the female lead in the BROADWAY PLAY. I like Shirley really well in HAZEL and also COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA. Did you watch Hazel? I first saw it in 1983-some of the color ones. I didn't see the black and white ones until probably less than a year later.

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    1. I adore Desk Set!

      I know I watched Hazel when I was a kid, but I don't have any firm memories. I should check out YouTube for some episodes.

      Joan Blondell and Shirley Booth share more than Desk Set. I think you might get a kick out of this old post: https://www.caftanwoman.com/2016/07/broadway-to-hollywood-starring-shirley.html

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  4. One of the movies I remember SPENCER TRACY from is FATHER OF THE BRIDE with JOAN BENNETT and ELIZABETH TAYLOR. It also had DON TAYLOR as the groom. Later Don became a prolific director. He directed eight episodes of BURKES LAW and he acted in two of those. I don't think Ive ever heard of a guest star directing an episode that he is in. It must be very rare.

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    1. Years ago, I was in the hospital and watching the tiny television on a Sunday morning when my roommate looked over and said "Is that Don Taylor?" It was. The lady said she'd had a crush on him when she was younger. I always think of her when I watch him in a movie, or one of the things he directed.

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  5. DON TAYLOR was married to two actresses. His marriage to PHYLLIS AVERY ended in divorce after 11 years. He was married to HAZEL COURT for 35 years until his passing in 1998. Do you know the work of MISS AVERY and MISS COURT?

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    1. I have seen Phyllis Avery on television programs like Perry Mason and The Virginian. I see a lot of Hazel Court this time of year as she was in a lot of horror movies. Funnily enough, the first thing that usually comes to mind (besides her marriage to Don Taylor) is an episode of Bonanza guest starring with Michael Rennie. It's funny what things will make an impression.

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  6. Speaking of the name PHYLLIS besides Phyllis Avery there were at least five more-PHYLLIS THAXTER, LOVE, KIRK, DILLER & DAVIS. Also there were at least two fictional ones-PHYLLIS LINDSTROM played by CLORIS LEACHMAN on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and her own spin-off PHYLLIS and from daytime there is PHYLLIS SUMMERS on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. She has been played by three actresses but mostly by MICHELLE STAFFORD. (The other two are SANDRA NELSON and GINA TOGNONI.) Im sure you know MISS STAFFORD from her role on GENERAL HOSPITAL as NINA REEVES. Now she is back on Y&R as PHYLLIS. NINA is now being played by CYNTHIA WATROS. So that's the story of some women named PHYLLIS.

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    1. Plus, I have a cousin Phyllis.

      I am pleased to have Cynthia Watros in the role of Nina currently. I am sorry that Gina Tognoni is out of a job because of Michaelle Stafford's return to Y&R.

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  7. KEEPER OF THE FLAME is not among my favorite Tracy-Hepburn movies, but it's a pleasure to watch the two of them interacting on screen.

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    1. I think the story wasn't handled as smoothly as it ought, but the performances and the overall atmosphere keep me interested. On the rewatch for this article I found myself really enjoying Richard Whorf's characterization.

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  8. It has been such a long time since I've seen this one, but I remember thinking how interesting it was that MGM followed up on the success of their new screen team with a film that couldn't be more different than Woman of the Year. You have to wonder if audiences were disappointed, especially given the ending. Definitely one I need to see again!

    Thanks for contributing to our blogathon!

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  9. Have you seen all the TRACY-HEPBURN movies? What is your favorite HEPBURN movie without TRACY? I know you like LITTLE WOMEN. Also what is your favorite TRACY movie without HEPBURN?

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THE SECOND SPENCER TRACY AND KATHARINE HEPBURN BLOGATHON: Keeper of the Flame (1942)

Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood is co-hosting with Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood The Second Spencer T...