Keeper of the Flame (1942) Starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Richard Whorf, Margaret Wycherly, Forrest Tucker, Frank Craven, Stephen McNally, Darryl Hickman, Percy Kilbride, Audrey Christie, Donald Meek, Howard Da Silva, William Newell, Colin Kenny, Mabel Colcord, Sam Harris, Crauford Kent, Harold Miller, Art Howard, Barry Norton.
Directed by George Cukor.
Running Time: 100 minutes.
“It’s a pity how easily people can be fooled”
All-American war hero, self-made millionaire, civic leader and failed presidential candidate Robert Forrest dies in a suspicious car accident passed the grove near his home driving off of an old faulty bridge during a rainstorm. Sadness grips the nation very much including official legions of admirers.
Journalist Steve O’Malley (Tracy) seeks to write a fitting tribute/biography about the man with the help of the young widow Christine (Hepburn) Forrest left behind. O’Malley is neither particularly eloquent nor even polite in the approach but as a writer of some note he can skate a fair distance on his reputation and is allowed access to certain approved documents and speeches.
The private life of Robert Forrest turns out to have been quite a bit different than public perceptions as do the deceased man’s true political beliefs. Yet perhaps more sinisterly his death may have been avoidable but for inaction of someone very close to him.
The pacing is the culprit in why this narrative is difficult to stick with. We get the red herring of Christine’s relationship with her cousin (Tucker) from early the beginning to the end then suddenly this torrent of information about Forrest’s involvement in the virus of a fascist conspiracy and an evil plan to undermine the Constitution.
Comparisons were made to Citizen Kane – a film with which it shares certain superficial characteristics. Each were alleged to be criticisms of William Randolph Hearst who had gone from being a left-wing Democrat and defender of the working class to a manipulative old man clinging to outdated ideals and cavorting with quasi-fascist elements.
Hearst’s attempts to suppress Citizen Kane the previous year rubbed a lot of people in Hollywood the wrong way and set the stage for mobilization against McCarthyism after which Tinseltown became a bastion of liberalism. This film is an artifact from a time when cinema was not merely at the mercy of different kids of censorship but also an age in which the uber wealthy blatantly sought to use motion picture art to defend, or forward their interests and often were successful in imposing their will.
The end portion focusing upon whether Forrest’s legend should be allowed to exist or whether it should be exposed for the sham it was is not given the attention it is owed for the simple reason not enough screen time was allotted to present it properly.
Based on the I.A.R. Wylie novel of the same name.
Of all the Tracy-Hepburn films this was the least successful commercially and critically.