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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>
Producer Walter Wanger was not deterred by pre-release threats of problems and boycotts from pro-fascist foreign governments. He responded, "Not only do we meekly take intimidation from abroad, but we jump obediently when almost anybody in this country says, 'Frog!' It's ridiculous, and I, for one, don't intend to continue. I'm going to release this Spanish picture as is, and if it's banned in Europe, I'll have to take my loss.". 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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The late and unlamented Senator Joseph McCarthy was wrong about many things, but one thing he got right was the extent of Communist penetration of the American movie industry during the thirties and forties; despite the fact that the Communist Party of the USA had virtually no popular support a remarkable number of Hollywood screenwriters and directors had links to the Party. What McCarthy got wrong was the idea that these individuals posed any real threat to American democracy. The combined efforts of all these Marxist intellectuals did not result in any rise in support for the Party (its best performance in a Presidential election was 0.3% of the vote in 1932). Indeed, they did not even succeed in getting any films made which could be regarded as furthering the Communist cause, other than a few wartime propaganda films like "North Star" which were made-with the blessing of the American authorities- to highlight the Soviet war effort.
"Blockade" is a case in point. The script was written by John Howard Lawson, one of the most hard-line Communists working in Hollywood, about the Spanish Civil War, a cause dear to the heart of every leftist. And yet its script is so confused that it is impossible to tell whether its politics are pro-Republican or pro-Nationalist.
Marco, a small farmer living somewhere near the Mediterranean coast of Spain, takes up arms to defend his land against the Bad Guys, and then becomes part of the Good Guys' army. He takes part in the defence of Castelmare, a port city held by the Good Guys but being blockaded by the Bad Guys who are hoping to starve it into surrender. The plot revolves around the attempts of the Good Guys to send a ship through the blockade to bring food to the starving citizens, and the attempts of the Bad Guys and their spies within the city to frustrate this plan by sinking the ship.
No doubt if Lawson had had his way he would have written a script which made it quite clear that the Good Guys were to be identified with the Republicans, but the studio- who doubtless felt that actually making a film about the conflict was quite brave enough- were determined that they should not be seen as favouring one side against the other, and the script was therefore neutered so as to ensure that the question of who the Good Guys and the Bad Guys actually were remained obscure. The film makes no reference to the International Brigades or to foreign intervention in the war, and all personal names and place names are fictitious. (The name "Castelmare" is actually Italian rather than Spanish, as is "Montefiore", another place mentioned in the film. The hero's name in Spanish would normally be "Marcos" rather than "Marco", and there are also characters with the Italian-sounding names "Pietro" and "Seppo". Lawson seems to have got confused about the differences between Spanish and Italian).
There are some factors which do indeed suggest that the Good Guys are intended to be identified with the Republicans, in particular the fact that the Bad Guys carry out air raids against civilian targets, a typically Nationalist tactic. Some have also pointed to the fact that the chief Bad Guy spies, a young woman named Norma and her father, are of Russian origin, although it should be mentioned that not all Russian émigrés at this period were Tsarists or even right-wingers; there were plenty of Russian liberals, social democrats, anarchists and Trotskyites in exile from Stalin's regime. (Norma later has a change of heart when she sees the suffering the blockade is causing, switches to the Good Guy side and becomes Marco's love-interest).
Other factors, however, suggest that the Good Guys are intended to be identified with the Nationalists, and not only the design of their uniforms which another reviewer mentioned. Marco mentions that the Bad Guys are targeting churches for destruction, just as the anarchists and communists did in the regions of Spain under their control. His taking up arms in defence of his land recalls the fact that the leftist programme of collectivising land forced many small farmers, who otherwise would have had little sympathy with Fascism, to support the Nationalist cause, fearing that in the event of a Republican victory they would share the fate of the Russian kulaks.
Yet despite its political incoherence the film has some good points. Indeed, it is perhaps the film's refusal to take sides that makes it still watchable more than seventy years on, certainly more watchable than a mere Francoist or anti-Francoist propaganda tract would be. Certainly, it is dated, something shown in those scenes which supposedly take place outdoors but which were in fact shot in a studio in front of very unconvincing-looking backcloths. Although it ends with a rousing peroration from Marco in which he calls for outside intervention in the war, its main interest today is as an anti-war drama, a film which shows us the human cost of war, a cost which remains the same whether the war is being waged by Good Guys or Bad Guys. 6/10
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