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.
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.