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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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 »
[last lines, after being told to find peace]
Marco: Peace? Where can you find it? Our country's been turned into a battlefield! There's no safety for old people and children. Women can't keep their families safe in their houses; they can't be safe in their own fields! Churches, schools, hospitals are targets! It's not war; war is between soldiers! It's murder! Murder of innocent people! There's no sense to it. The world can stop it! Where's the conscience of the world?
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Although Blockade managed to get two Academy Award nominations for Best Music Score and Best Original Screenplay, time has not dealt well with the film. For Whom The Bells Toll is a great Hemingway novel and great film made from that novel and it is a far better interpretation of the Spanish Civil War.
Which was still going on when Blockade was made by Walter Wanger in 1938 and released by United Artists. Wanger had under personal contract at the time Henry Fonda whom he had brought to Hollywood to recreate his Broadway starring role in The Farmer Takes A Wife. After that during the Thirties he mostly rented Fonda's services out to the studios until Fonda signed a contract with 20th Century Fox to get to play Tom Joad in The Grapes Of Wrath.
One of the big problems is the casting of Henry Fonda as a Spanish peasant who joins the Republican Army and is the voice of the Spanish proletariat on screen. Fonda is just way too American in his speech to ever be convincing as anything else. As the voice of an American worker, Tom Joad in The Grapes Of Wrath, Fonda was perfect. As a Spaniard he just doesn't cut it. But he was certainly a bigger box office than the guy who should have played the part, Gilbert Roland.
While still just a peasant working his fields before war comes, Fonda meets up with Madeleine Carroll who is a Russian expatriate traveling through Spain to meet her father Vladimir Sokoloff and another family friend John Halliday. She doesn't know it, but the two of them are spies. And she gets roped into their espionage game as well.
The story of the Spanish Civil War is a complex one, but one of the failures of Blockade is that we never get any kind of background. Roughly speaking the bulk of the military staged a coup against the Republic of Spain and in the end which came in 1939, Francisco Franco emerged as a fascist dictator of Spain out of all the generals in revolt. But none of that is explained here in Blockade. All we know is that it's an amorphous 'them' out there making it tough on the peasants who are in fact supporting the constitutional and elected Republic of Spain.
Although the wholesale bombing of civilians had first been done in Ethiopia by the Italians, civilian bombing targets were first done in Europe in the Spanish Civil War. It was new and frightening and widely covered in the domestic and foreign press. The story of Blockade centers around a coastal town in which a relief ship cannot get through. The port may have to be surrendered and with it the whole province. It's what the Nationalists are working for and the Republicans like Fonda trying to prevent, though the names Nationalist and Republican are never used.
John Howard Lawson wrote the original script that got the Academy nod and he was one of the later Hollywood Ten and one who in fact made no bones about his Marxist sympathies. But this film has been so drained of politics that it's almost antiseptic.
I'd say Blockade is one for fans of the leads and an interesting if mediocre way showing how Hollywood handled a burning issue of the time.
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