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A simple peasant is forced to take up arms to defend his farm during the Spanish Civil War. Along the way he falls in love with Russian whose father is involved in espionage. Written by
Herman Seifer <email@example.com>
The original title of this film was "The River is Blue" and the original director was to be Lewis Milestone. Kurt Weill even wrote music for the original project that was never used (lyrics by 'Ann Ronell)'. The title was changed to "Castles in Spain," then to "Blockade." The topic of the Spanish Civil War was politically sensitive and there is some hint that the upheavals of the original project were due to the political content of the film. See more »
Where is the conscience of the world?
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A rather flat film that is afraid to challenge or take sides, with a romance that doesn't really engage
Marco is a simple Spanish farmer who is forced to stand up and be counted when he takes up arms to protect his country during the civil war. When his heroics and bravery sees him promoted up the ranks, Marco finds things complicated when he starts to fall in love with a woman who's father turns out to be a Russian spy. The couple try to deal with their feelings while they find themselves on opposite sides of the war.
Boasting the tagline 'the most important film of 1938' and having been awarded Oscars at the time of its release, I decided to watch this film and see what the fuss was about. What I found was a film that is too self-consciously cautious to be great fun, too worthy to be involving and ends up being rather dull and uninteresting. The basic plot is set around the Spanish civil war but it appears to have been careful about coming down on either side of the argument and therefore is so balanced that it almost cancels out any content that may have been challenging or informative. This leaves a story about personalities and the central romance, which is a problem because the film doesn't deal with these very well either. The romance tries to be bleak and supposedly doomed but it just can't get the tone right and it never really gets anywhere near as emotive as it needed to be certainly this is no Casablanca.
With the script problems and rather drab direction, the film only occasionally gets close to being really impacting and involving and it was only the moments where the horrors of the conflict are allowed to get above political neutrality that the film comes to life but these are too infrequent. The cast are set adrift and do the best they can to squeeze emotion and drama out of the script but their efforts just seem out of place against a rather flat backdrop. Fonda is always watchable even if his 'good honest man' is a rather dull character and, for that reason, hard to get behind; certainly modern audiences may find his unquestioning patriotism and simple morals hard to swallow. Carroll is better than the film deserves, her performance is very good and it is just a shame that the rest of the film doesn't come up to her level of work. Support is OK but the script doesn't fill the film that well and most of the cast are given little to do.
Overall this may well have been the 'most important film of 1938' but it doesn't do a great deal today. The film doesn't inform and isn't interesting as it carefully treads the complexities of the conflict and Fonda's final to-camera rant about peace is too little, too late and just comes across as being rather pat. The romance could have saved it but this too is fluffed despite the best efforts of Carroll, but Fonda, despite being worth a look, plays it all to simplistically in line with the material.
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