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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Of all the films done by Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (except,
possibly, "Sea Of Grass" and their last film, "Guess Who's Coming To
Dinner - the latter for a different reason), "Keeper Of The Flame" was
the great downer among the Hepburn - Tracy romps. "Sea Of Grass" has a
portrait of a ruthless western cattle baron played by Tracy, whose
happiness is marred by Kate's dalliance with Melvyn Douglas and the
actual provenance of his "son" Robert Walker (who dies in his arms).
"Guess", of course, was saddened by the decline in Tracy's health,
visible in several scenes, and that last moving speech about his
passions for Hepburn remaining even in his old age. But "Keeper" ends
with Hepburn's death. As pointed out elsewhere on this thread it was
rare for Hepburn to die in her film ("Christopher Strong" and "Mary of
Scotland" come to mind as exceptions preceding "Keeper"...few came
Actually "Keeper of the Flame" is more than just the sole tragic film of the Tracy - Hepburn series. It is their only joint attempt at a film noir. It is also a thinly disguised discussion of one of the most controversial heroes of 20th Century American History: Charles Augustus Lindbergh.
Robert Forrest is a great national hero, whose very existence gave the reporter Steve O'Malley (Tracy) a warm, glowing feeling when he was abroad, studying the mess in Europe and Asia. With people like Forrest at home, O'Malley felt that America had nothing to fear about it's security and freedom. Then, like most Americans, he was shocked and saddened to hear that Forrest was killed in a car accident on his estate. He is sent to the estate on an assignment, and intends to do a bit of personal research to give a proper final magazine monument to his hero's memory. But he meets Forrest's widow Christine (Hepburn) and finds that her behavior is odd - and not very upset at the death of the great man. He notes her interest in her cousin Geoff Midford (Forrest Tucker), which seems too close for decency. Also he notes how Forrest's "agreeable" secretary Clive Kerndon (Richard Whorf) acts with a degree of secrecy and even threat towards Christine.
"Keeper Of The Flame" never really makes Forrest an exact copy of Lindbergh. After all, the "Lone Eagle" was still alive in 1942, and capable of suing MGM. But it leaves at least one "Lindbergh" trace in Forrest's background, which most people would not notice unless they read the recent novel by Philip Roth "The Plot Against America". Roth has the Republicans, in 1940, nominate Lindbergh to run against FDR, and Lindbergh wins. This keeps us out of World War II, and it turns our country into a neo-Fascist state. In actuality, Lindbergh was suggested as a Vice Presidential candidate to run with Wendell Wilkie, but he did not get that nomination. If you listen to Whorf's dialog, at one point he is willing to allow Tracy hear a recording of Forrest's speech at the 1940 convention rejecting that nomination.
But there is no mention of how Forrest became such a national hero - certainly nothing about aviation. And there is no mention of any children with Christine who got kidnapped and murdered. As I said, the studio did not want to be sued. But the unpleasant experience of Lindbergh's American First crusade, culminating in his notorious "Des Moines" speech where he hinted at Jewish influence to push the U.S. into war, was sufficient to make the character of Forrest stand for only one other American.
The slow revelation of Forrest's true character, his egomania and arrogance - his embrace of fascism for power, and his huge following with other malcontents is done well. Of course, today, seeing the film and knowing it's reputation, the effect of the slow revelations is not as effective as in it's original release in 1942. Best moment in this is Margaret Wycherley's as Forrest's senile mother - but a senile woman whose character is as bent as her son's. Notice her comments about the size of houses.
Hepburn's performance, of the two leads, is weaker - she does show her everlasting intelligence as Christine, but little of the passion that guides her to do what she has to do. Tracy is better - he is a true believer in the cult of Forrest, and his disillusionment is painful ("Robert Forrest...what happened?"). But for my money it is Whorf's performance which is the best, because of his quiet fanaticism in protecting the great man's secret, and his menace towards Hepburn. If one only thinks of Whorf as Sam Harris in "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (which he made the same year), this performance is a revelation of his strength as a dramatic actor. Whorf had a short life (he died in the 1960s), and gradually became a film and television director. He could have remained a very effective dramatic actor.
I first saw "Keeper of the Flame" a few years after its original release
(1942), probably around age 13, which would make it 1946. At the time of
release, it received mixed reviews at best. I, personally, was quite moved
by it. Now, 53 years later, I've seen it again. Although the film is a bit
dated and its central theme was better hyped at the time of its release, I
believe it holds up fairly well.
The film concerns itself with blind hero worship, as a mesmerized nation
mourns the sudden accidental death of a national icon. A much respected
reporter (Spencer Tracy), just back from Europe where he's witnessed the
early horrors of World War II prior to U.S. entry into the conflict, has
arrived just after the great man's tragic auto accident. He decides to
the hero's biography, so to immortalize his memory. While he manages to
distance himself from the jostling pool of reporters, his biggest challenge
is in seeing the great man's reclusive widow (Katharine
In short, once the contact is made and the research process undertaken,
we see the deceased as through a prism of characters: the eerily effective
secretary (Richard Whorf); the down-home philosopher-cab driver (Percy
Kilbride); the laconic and somewhat cynical doctor (Frank Craven, who
observes of the mass hysteria: "Some of us held out;" a pouting cousin
(Forrest Tucker), and an embittered caretaker (Howard Da Silva) who had
the hero's captain in World War I. Now, restricted physically by wounds he
suffered, he has served the man he once commanded. He seems resentful of
man who saved his life in combat. The effect of unbridled hero worship on
impressioable young mind is captured in the caretaker's son (Darryl
Hickman), convinced he is responsible for the death of his idol. His role
becomes tedious, but is critical to the underlying psychology of the film.
Like the peeling of an onion, the film reveals layer after layer of the people in the life of a giant, his relations with them, and the passions stirred by his presence ... and his causes. We see that it is wise to temper emotion with information in selecting our icons. While Tracy and Hepburn are quite good in their roles, it is the supporting cast which drives the film. Whorf, Da Silva and Craven are outstanding in key roles. The Bronislau Kaper score and excellent black and white cinematography preserve the quality of the drama and help it through its dated moments.
One of my favorite Spencer Tracy movies, Keeper of the Flame is probably the most serious of all the films teaming Tracy with Katherine Hepburn, perhaps the only one that might fit the "noir" class. Mystery surrounds the death of national hero Robert Forrest. Reporter Steve O'Malley (Tracy) wants to do a biography of the late statesman, but the closer he tries to get to the family on their huge estate (sort of a Gothic version of the Kennedy Compound), the more it seems Forrest's widow (Hepburn) and secretary are trying to hide something. Tracy begins to suspect their foul involvement in the hero's supposed accidental death. In addition to the great Tracy and Hepburn and an intriguing story, there are fine performances from the supporting cast which includes a young Forrest Tucker (Spencer, Tracy, and Kong), Darryl Hickman (Fighting Father Dunn), Howard da Silva (1776), Percy Kilbride (Pa Kettle), and others.
Keeper of the Flame is the answer to the trivia question, what film
contained the only screen death for either Katherine Hepburn or Spencer
Tracy in their joint projects.
This was their second teaming and after the comedy of Woman of the Year, they tried a change of pace with a melodrama. Pearl Harbor was still fresh in everyone's minds and so was the discredited isolationist movement.
It's chief spokesperson was Charles Lindbergh on whom the character of Hepburn's husband Robert Forrest was based. Lindbergh's too close association with Germany tarred him for the rest of his life.
Here Robert Forrest is killed right at the beginning of the film as he drives over a bridge that's ready to collapse. The death of Forrest brings out the grief of a nation and reporters flock to his Manderley like estate.
One of those reporters is Spencer Tracy who by some chicanery gains entrance to the place and meets the widow Forrest and her husband's chief aide Richard Whorf. The place reeks of sinister and Tracy's curiosity is aroused. He also meets Margaret Wycherly who is Hepburn's mother-in-law. She's one batty old dame. A far cry from Gary Cooper's mother a year before who Wycherly played in Sergeant York.
Hepburn seeks to preserve her late husband's reputation at the risk of her own in sending Tracy out on a red herring. He discovers the truth and how he does it and the result therein is the crux of the film.
Tracy and Hepburn are at their professional best working for the first time with George Cukor who later guided them through Adam's Rib and Pat and Mike. Richard Whorf is very good as the malevolent aide.
After over 60 years the film still packs a powerful dramatic punch.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Keeper of the Flame", the 1942 George Cukor movie was shown recently
on cable. The screen play is by Donald Ogden Stewart, one of the best
writers working in movies at the time. This somber film holds our
interest because of Mr. Cukor's excellence as a director. The film was
also the second film that Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn did
The great Robert Forrester, a man that is considered a patriot, has died. We are taken at the beginning of the film to witness his funeral during a rainy spell. It appears how much the death of this man has touched the people, as we see lining the streets of the small town where he lived.
Steven O'Malley, a news correspondent comes into town to report about it. He is a distinguished journalist that wants to get a first hand view of what was behind the accident that caused the death. He wants to meet the widow, the enigmatic Christine Forrest, who at first is reluctant to cooperate, but who is one of the keys to solving the mystery.
Fascism, was one of the themes that preoccupied Hollywood before and during WWII. The figure of Robert Forrest seemed to be modeled after Charles Lindberg. Both men's lives appear to have shared a common interest in their admiration for all the things that were happening in Germany during that period. It was obvious that O'Malley will get in waters about his head as he investigates, but the awful truth emerges, and it's not pretty.
Spencer Tracy proves why he was one of the best actors in movies during that period this movie was done. He worked effortlessly in front of the camera, yet, his interpretation of O'Malley comes as one of the best things he ever played. Katherine Hepburn, in a subdued performance, is also an equal match for Mr. Tracy. Her Christine Forrester was also one of her best appearances.
The supporting players, Richard Whorf, the excellent Margaret Wycherly, Forrest Tucker, Audrey Christie, and Darryl Hickman, among them, contribute to make this movie better.
"Keeper of the Flame"(1942)was the second film starring the team of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Their first was the delightful George Stevens comedy,"Woman of the Year",which was a smash hit at the Box Office. However,many critics consider their second film to be a not bad, but lesser teaming. This is mainly because the characters Tracy and Hepburn play lack the romantic chemistry that was evident in their other films. Also,because of the dark theme of the plot,there is no room for any comical moments. With that said, "Keeper of the Flame" is a brilliant mystery-drama with a timely theme:the dangers of false hero-worship. Steven O'Malley(Spencer Tracy)is a reporter wanting to write a story on the life of Robert Forrest,a beloved American hero, who has suddenly been killed in a tragic car accident. O'Malley has found it difficult to get an interview with the devastated widow,Christine Forrest(Katharine Hepburn). While waiting for the interview, he encounters peculiar people well-acquainted with the deceased. He meets Forrest's brother-in-law(Forrest Tucker),an embittered man,who seems to despise Forrest, a young boy(Daryll Hickman),who admires Forrest so much,he feels responsible for his death,and Forrest's fussy secretary(Richard Whorf),who isn't what he seems to be. The young boy leads O'Malley to Christine Forrest. O'Malley expects Christine to be well in her middle-age,but he's startled to see she isn't that old. Christine isn't very helpful with the story;she's quite distant when O'Malley asks her certain questions. O'Malley also finds out that Forrest's mother(Margaret Wycherly)is still living. Her identity is near-hidden, so he decides to meet her. Christine claims she's a mentally-disturbed invalid,but O'Malley feels she knows more than she has been given credit for. Meeting these people,O'Malley comes to the startling realization that Robert Forest,a supposed "American hero",isn't such a great human being. The acting is vivid and realistic. Katharine Hepburn is excellent in the challenging role of a woman who knows what her husband was really like,but must be "the keeper of the flame." Spencer Tracy is extremely effective as a reporter,who's beliefs have been shattered. The sparkling supporting cast makes the mystery even more intriguing. George Cukor does a terrific job of directing by never having unnecessary scenes and building up the suspense slowly to make the ending have a lasting impression. Cukor's work here foreshadows his work on the psychological dramas,"Gaslight"(1944) and "A Double Life"(1947). The cinematography is stark and always draws the viewer's attention. The score is appropriately overpowering. The film has some similarities to the overrated,"Citizen Kane."(1941) It's similar in that the main character is a deceased American figure,who's isn't what he seems to be. Also,in both films,the main character lives in a dark,mysterious house. However,the viewer has sympathy for Charles Foster Kane,whereas no one feels sorry for Robert Forrest. I recommend this film and give it a strong 8 1/2 out of 10.
This film is early in the Tracy-Hepburn canon, and not widely regarded as
one of their best efforts. The thing is, coming out so shortly after their
landmark Woman Of the year, it isn't properly a Tracy-Hepburn vehicle so
much as a George Cukor-Donald Ogden Stewart movie in which they happen to
It is the story of a newspaperman (Tracy) out to investigate the circumstances behind the death of a much beloved American hero, meets and falls in love with the man's widow (Hepburn)who, along with everyone else whoever knew the man, seems to be harboring some dark secrets as to the true nature of his character. The film owes some obvious debts to Citizen Kane in being the inside scoop on a recently deceased man presumed to be great but who was in actuality something else altogether. In its somber mood, forbidding mansion, enigmatic and generally paranoid aspect, Keeper of the Flame suggests Kane in many regards, but is, to be fair, its own film.
Tracy and Hepburn play their roles exceedingly well. The supporting cast is well-chosen, and Percy Kilbride does a nice turn as a cab-driver; while Margaret Wycherly is scarifying as the dead man's mad mother; and a young, Aryan-looking-as-all-getout Forrest Tucker scoots about on a motorcycle like he'd join Hitler's minions at the drop of a hat. Richard Whorf in what at the time must have seemed a 'daring' performance, plays a fussy secretary to the dead hero in a manner which suggests a combination of repressed mania and strong homosexual tendencies. His character is wholly unbelievable but awfully fun to watch.
The movie has a dark, gothic cast to it, and was obviously filmed on a studio back-lot, but the result is not so much unreality as the suggestion of a fairy tale or a fable strangely consistent with the film's intent, and hence satisfying, making its woods and country roads look at times like a weird and twisted perversion of a Norman Rockwell painting.
I'm sure anyone seeing this film will wonder just what is happening.
This great cast made a very serious movie and were lines they could
deliver powerfully dramatically and evenly to convey a whole range of
The plot is easily summarized. A reporter, O'Malley (Spencer Tracy) wants to write -- what? he's not certain -- a piece on an icon who people revere in the same way they might (say) Washington or Lincoln, The first part of the film is documents how to get to see the icon's wife. She's reclusive and her servants are dedicated to preserving her sanctity. What's behind this isolation? That in itself is a bothersome question for O'Malley. Something is not ringing right. She was the wife of a popular public figure. Why wouldn't she cooperate? As he digs, he finds he cannot write the story, at first because he does not know enough, and then because he knows too much of the wrong thing and finally because he suspects he does not know what is hidden from him and it is critical.
And as he untwists the Gordian knot that is presented to him, he finds there is duplicity and mendacity on every level. But nothing is as simple as it seems. Instead of writing about the icon, he picks the wife.
But that is not the depth of the film. The depth is revealed as we learn about the Hepburn character and Tracy's response. He moves from someone who can ignore genuine interest in him by a woman, (Audrey Christie), and seek his goal. What develops is first a genuine friendship followed by an admiration that transcends almost any other kind of relationship.
That is a very complicated situation to convey in the simple straight forward acting method of Tracy's (but he always manages to do what is required of him), and mysterious sophisticated quality that Hepburn always wears like some garment only given once by the gods who give such gifts.
This is not an easy exercise. Don't get caught in the datedness. Watch how the actors, directors and writers put together something that is admirable in its mixture of simplicity and complexity -- what others have called pealing the onionskin off the inion.
Tracy's speech at the end of the movie about the American public being able to handle the truth is a point that should be well taken by today's politicians. Nothing is worse than finding out you have been lied to. Instead of sweeping it under the rug, Tracy's character brings the deception to the forefront for all to see. We would all be better off if our media and representaives had the same courage.
Keeper of the Flame was made during the early days of World War II. It
revolves around the life, beliefs, and death of one man but is a lesson
for one nation, or one world, interested in the freedoms we were
fighting for and the evils we were fighting against in 1942.
Spencer Tracy portrays a reporter-to-author who is to write the biography of a man recently deceased. The deceased was a very successful businessman who had launched a campaign for public office but was killed --- by accident, intention, or a combination of the two --- before he could claim his victory. And, it would have been a victory; The public was charmed by the man they believed embodied the American ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness... or success. Hepburn plays the widow of this 'man of the people', and, as such, someone who must be interviewed by Tracy. The more questions Tracy asks of those near and dear to his subject, the fewer answers he finds. Our reporter eventually comes to believe there is one American ideal with which his deceased subject did NOT agree: The equality of all men, regardless of race or religion.
Ever the typical skeptical journalist, Tracy won't begin to write for publication until he can fully answer a few interesting questions: Who had this man really been? Had he been the steadfast and lone American patriot all believed him to be ... or had he been a member of an organization whose primary goal was to raise one ethnic, religious, and racial group above the rest? Had he really been killed in an 'accident'? And, if not, had he been killed by those who agreed or disagreed with his political motives?
Also of interest to our journalist: How well had Hepburn's character known her husband? Does she agree with his political agenda? How much does she really know about the 'accident' that killed him. And, most importantly, how far would she... or anyone else... go to make sure her husband was remembered as an honest American?
This movie is a mystery / political thriller / morality play / who-done-it. It is also a lesson to 'be careful what you wish for' and highly recommended.
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