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The Prototype For Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America"
theowinthrop22 May 2006
Warning: 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 afterward too).

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.
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Fascists in our midst
jotix1006 April 2006
Warning: 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 together.

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.
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Revisited after all these years, it holds up pretty well.
finemot26 December 1999
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 its 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 write 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 Hepburn). 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 been 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 the man who saved his life in combat. The effect of unbridled hero worship on an 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.
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A great character study cloaked in mystery
jeromec-25 April 2006
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 emotions.

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.
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Most serious, intriguing Tracy / Hepburn film.
SpaceComics16 May 2005
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.
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The only screen death
bkoganbing20 April 2005
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.
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The Midnight Oil
telegonus12 August 2001
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 appear.

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.
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Keeper of the Flame is a good political drama. It has Hepburn, Tracy, and interesting plot twists, all of which will hold your attention.
Debbiejean7 October 2005
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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Today's politicians should take note
apir5115 January 2004
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.
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A film very much worth seeing
richard-178716 June 2010
This film bears no resemblance to the other Spencer Tracy - Katherine Hepburn films. It is a very serious drama, with no hint of comedy.

And, while it sometimes veers into melodrama, it is a very important film that needs to be seen. It deals with the dangers of third columnists, those who, impatient with democracy, would bring fascism to this country. Meet John Doe hints at this as well, but not as powerfully as this movie.

Yes, it's melodramatic at times. But it tells, very well, a very important tale, one that we dare never forget.

Watch this movie, if you get a chance. And remember its message, which, alas, is for all times. Those with power, especially those who have acquired power through wealth, sometimes lose patience with democracy and want to by-pass it to get what they want. It is the function of a free press to expose them, and to save us from them.


I just watched this movie again - I've seen it several times since I wrote the above review nine years ago, well before a certain real estate tycoon came to power. But that tycoon is not what I want to talk about here.

Reading over some of the other comments that have accrued since then, I see that for some the highly dramatic, indeed sometimes melodramatic style of the movie has been a problem. It's true: both in the way some of the actors - Hepburn, Wycherly - deliver their lines and in the way Cukor directed this film and had it lit, the movie comes off as a sort of Gothic horror story, like Frankenstein, about a mad man who wants supreme powers. I can see that that style may be off-putting to young people not accustomed to it.

It is also highly theatrical, even through it is adapted from a novel and not a play. In particular the final scene in the cabin between Hepburn and Tracy seems very much like a speech in a stage play. Hepburn's perfect enunciation contrasts with Tracy's equally clear but more natural speech. It's almost - almost - like a serious version of *Midsummer Madness*, the play that the movie *Auntie Mame* makes fun of.

Still, it would be a shame if the theatrical style of the movie put off modern viewers, since the message of this movie - and it very definitely has one - is so very important.

And that message is well told. It would have been easier, but much less effective, to present the newspaper reporter, Tracy, as suspicious of the great man, Robert Forrest, from the beginning. Instead, we get to watch him discover that his idol had feet of clay, even though that is not the truth he wants to find. Tracy does a great job of presenting that in the cabin scene, even while Hepburn is enunciating her long speech as if she were on stage. (Compare this scene with the end of *Amadeus*, where we watch the priest's ideals fall apart as his listens to Salieri recount the life behind his music and Mozart's.)

So I repeat my "must watch" recommendation from nine years ago. Even if the melodramatic style is not to your liking, it's worth paying attention to what this film has to say.
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An Absorbing and Sadly Overlooked Mystery-Drama.
kryck26 March 2002
"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.
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Enduring parable
mermatt27 April 1999
Even though the story about fascism on the home front is strongly connected to its time period during World War II, the film's deeper warning remains true -- people who play hero to the masses may not be what they appear.

Great performances from the great team, Tracy and Hepburn. The atmosphere of mystery and gradual revelation of the amazing truth makes the film absorbing and tense. Though the film is not well known, this is definitely a classic.
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Obvious as to who Forrest was meant to refer to.
robert-mulqueen19 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Spoiler Alert.

After hearing about this film for years, I finally watched it tonight on TCM. For the comments about it having been an echo of "Citizen Kane" and a reference to William Randolph Hearst, it seems to me that the "great man" is based on Charles Lindbergh. After all, Lindbergh was the most admired public figure in the U.S. after the 1927 trans-Atlantic flight and then following the kidnapping and murder of he and Ann Morrow Lindbergh's son in 1935. But the kicker was Lindbergh's involvement, nay his leadership of the America First movement that cinches for me that Mr. Forrest's "great man" -- who is shown to have secretly been behind a conspiracy in the guise of a patriotic movement -- is meant to refer to Lindbergh.
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Almost perfect
kols24 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
First saw this as a kid in the 50's and was fascinated and just a little frightened by it. The theme, public vrs private personae, was already well know to me, primarily through Joe McCathy's rise and fall, but also from movies like Meet John Doe and Face in the Crowd, while its tone echoed everything from Ace in the Hole to Dragonwhyck: both dark and manic. I even got the Lindbergh allusion because I'd seen numerous newsreels of Lindbergh's speeches, with their hints of racism and fascism, so different from the quintessential American Individualism of Jimmy Stewart's portrayal. No one's mentioned the reference to Alvin York, perhaps because of Gary Cooper's portrayal of a York who consciously rejected what Lindbergh and Forrest embraced.

What frightened me was not the specifics of Forrest's 'secrets', the addiction to power, the attraction to fascism, but the way the movie evoked the darkness that resides, hidden and lurking, in all of our souls and how easily that darkness can be unleashed and amplified through the blindness of hero-worship and projection.

Haven't seen it since, not until it was on TMC tonight and I was very curious to see if it was the movie I remembered. For the most part it was and, in ways, was even better. The script, performances and cinematography were flawless, up until the last scene with its intrusion of melodrama and a reverse Deus ex Machina. That scene was totally at odds with rest of the movie, comes close to spoiling the entire movie and I suspect it was edited out of the version I saw as a kid; I certainly didn't remember it.

Even so, it's an great movie technically and well worth a single viewing; depending on taste, perhaps a second or third. Just scrap the ending.

A footnote: Lindbergh, an honest demagogue, and McCarthy, a crooked demagogue, both failed to become kingmakers largely because, while we may idolize 'heroes' and seek 'heroes' to idolize, we don't trust them and, when it comes down to it, we prefer our several hundreds of millions of versions of messy individualism over the comfort and certainty of any ideology.
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" He was not their friend, he was the enemy of America "
thinker169116 June 2010
In the early days of the 1940's, America was being inexorably drawn into World War Two. During that time, there was a great national Isolationist movement which sought to keep America out of the global conflict. The strongest and perhaps the most influential figures which arose were America's heroes. Among them was famed aviator, Charles Lindbergh. Having visited Germany prior to the invasion of Poland, was convinced America could not win a war against Germany. This movie called " Keeper of the Flame " represents the views of the late Robert Forest, a rich industrialist, popular and civic leader who although groomed himself as a true American patriot, was in fact a 'sleeper' Fascist. Because he believed Forest was an American hero, Steve O'Malley (Spencer Tracy) a famous war correspondent, returns home. His mission is to write the biography of Forest. Instead, as he begins writing the story, he discovers that Forest's wife Christine (Katharine Hepburn) and her family is hiding a family secret which everyone wants to keep buried with the deceased. With Richard Whorf, Margaret Wycherly and Forrest Tucker in supporting roles, this mysterious film quickly becomes a spy vs spy drama. One which Tracy and Hepburn play to the hilt. Due to her association with her husband, I could not help but see Bogart in this movie. Nevertheless, this is a dark film which easily explains the title. Recommended to anyone wanting to recall why America eventually went to war. ****
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for those who think it can't happen here
skiddoo20 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
When I was in high school a survey came out that the Baby Boomers didn't have heroes and that was considered a bad thing. I still think it is a very, very GOOD thing! Beware of the people you put up on a pedestal. Beware of people who care more about power than the truth. It is, sadly, extremely easy to manipulate the public, especially in times of turmoil or misery. Those are the lessons of this movie in a dramatic version of power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

I found this movie to be deeply creepy because it was so plausible--the kids who voluntarily set up action groups they didn't know were going to be used for evil, the adults who wanted to get in on the action, the stirring up of hatreds, the impulse to not tell the public to "protect" them. Haunted houses and ghouls with chainsaws are nothing to me compared to the idea of people like this succeeding. The ideology doesn't matter. What matters is the power grab.
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One of Tracy/Hepburn's Very Best
vincentlynch-moonoi19 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I've been waiting years for this to come out on DVD because I always found this film to be particularly intriguing -- and intrigue is what this dark and absorbing film is all about.

Robert Forrest had become a national hero when he was killed. Spencer Tracy (playing journalist Stephen O'Malley) decides to write a supportive biography about him, but begins to discover there is something more to the story than the other reporters settled for. Forrest's widow, Katharine Hepburn, at first refuses to meet with O'Malley, but then suddenly accepts his request, but is clearly hiding something. And what is being hidden is a fascist plot to overthrown the American government.

Richard Whorf is clearly one of the bad guys here, and is superb. Another wonderful performance is by Darryl Hickman as the young boy who blames himself for Robert Forrest's death.

The production standards in this film are superb. It's one of those rare times when you almost prefer that they filmed the entire thing in the studio, even though many scenes take place outdoors. The detail in those forest scenes is remarkable.

Quintessential Spencer Tracy in what I feel was one of his best roles. And what made Tracy so good here is that unlike some of his early films, by this point in his career he had learned to be subtle and understate, while reserving his magnificence in "roaring" for select moments when it really mattered. And, Katherine Hepburn is equally marvelous as the widow. The scene where she finally tells Tracy the truth about her dead husband is as good acting as she ever did in a film.

The ending of the film comes somewhat suddenly...a practice I generally dislike...but this time works. And, at least in my view, it's a surprise ending.

Read the interesting background information about this film (for example from Wikipedia), and you'll find out about it's commercial and critical flop that, over the years has been replaced by fairly high regard by professional movie critics. This movie is a treasure on many levels. Very highly of the few films I've given a "9" to.
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Darker Side of Hepburn Tracy Partnership
NewInMunich14 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This movie got me with its spectacular opening of a car crashing (which was reused in "Dead Men don't wear plaid" 40 years later. Looking deeper into it, it is a Hepburn Tracy partnership definitely on the darker side of things as it evolves around the dead politician, who was a hero in the public mind, but had a very sinister leaning towards fascism, that lead to his early death. The discovery of this basically makes up the film, with Hepburn as grieving(?) widow and Tracy as the reporter trying to uncover, what is first only a gut feeling. This whole thing is rather dark, with people rejecting to talk openly or trying to put away the truth. An interesting look on American susceptiveness towards totalitarian, if it is only dressed up as "good American".
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What an opening - and what a letdown
rick_711 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
National hero Robert Forrest is dead. As America mourns, idealistic hack Stephen O'Malley (Spencer Tracy) arrives at the Forrest mansion, promising to do right by the heroic statesman with a comprehensive biog. That sounds reasonable, so why is Forrest's white-clad widow (Katharine Hepburn) acting so strangely? The film starts off fantastically, the first 30 bristling with energy and intrigue as sparks fly between reporter Tracy - just back from Berlin - and old flame Audrey Christie. There's some super interplay between the leads as well, and Tracy spouts spare, world-weary wisdom as only he can. But then Kate starts whispering behind closed doors to press agent Richard Whorf and it all falls apart. The blame really lies with Donald Ogden Stewart's script, which slips from wit, originality and humanism to cliché and blandness, though Cukor (Hepburn's favourite director) doesn't help matters by signposting all his plot twists.

There's a good idea at the heart of this film, but it's lost in the muddled production. The effect is as if Tracy and Hepburn were offered four disparate projects and decided to film them all at once. Beginning with a sort of inspired cross between Citizen Kane and His Girl Friday, we traipse through tedious Gothic melodrama (the mid-section playing like a flabby Jane Eyre as the meeting with Forrest's mother just goes on and on and on), and wind up in a heavy-handed, unconvincing thriller, Hepburn frantically incinerating her late husband's papers. To my eyes, few films are "unintentionally hilarious", but there's a bit in the climax where Whorf bounces off the front of a car that's really badly handled and did elicit a slight chuckle. Considering the film's opening, I have to chalk up Keeper of the Flame as a major disappointment. Revel in the opening third, with its scintillating badinage and Percy Kilbride's hilarious supporting turn, but don't expect that momentum to last. By the final reels, there's just the performances to take solace in, as the screenplay loses the plot. Perhaps that's what Hepburn was chucking in the fire.
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A Timely Reminder in a Great Film
nancyldraper30 December 2018
Warning: Spoilers
An important message in a world bent on fostering an isolating and unhealthy nationalism. Even though this movie was released in 1943, in the wake of annihilating European fascism, the last scenes should speak a cautionary word to our 2018 world. SPOILER {It gives a description of how fascism seeds hate, suspicion and enmity in a nation and its subsequent disastrous harvest END of SPOILER. Besides being uncomfortably current, this is a great movie. The mystery is intriguing. The thill is enthralling. The acting and chemistry is... well... Tracy and Hepburn. Need I say more? This is the second of 9 movies that Tracy and Hepburn gave us and may I say, "Thank you" to Turner Classic Movies (TCM) for bringing them back to us. I give this film an 8 (great) out of 10. {Drama, Thriller, Mystery}
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Good Film
Michael_Elliott24 May 2008
Keeper of the Flame (1942)

*** (out of 4)

Deeply involving drama has an American hero getting killed in a car accident and while the country mourns his death a reporter (Spencer Tracy) goes to his home to try and tell his life story. When the reporter finally meets the widow (Katharine Hepburn) he starts to realize that there's a mysterious truth behind the man's legend that might go against everything he stood for. I'm not sure why this film doesn't get more credit when people discuss the various films with Tracy and Hepburn but I found the movie to be very involving and contain quite a bit of suspense. The film was clearly influenced by Citizen Kane and this is easy to see in the film's look and atmosphere. The movie is incredibly dark and I really can't recall one scene that takes place with any light. The cinematography really captures the moody settings and the visual style is certainly very impressive. Tracy is his usual self in that he gives another wonderful and intense performance. Tracy is one of my favorite actors because you can read so much into just by watching his face and here the intensity in his face is great to watch. Hepburn is also wonderful in her role and when she finally reveals all the secrets towards the end, it's among the best I've seen her in any movie. I think the film has some flaws including the whole mystery aspect that takes too long to reveal. I think the film would have been better had some hints been dropped throughout the film but instead they are all held for the end. Even with that flaw, this is still a highly entertaining film that deserves more credit than it gets.
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Better than I remembered
victorialhawkins15 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this movie last week for the first time in a few decades--I don't recall it being shown at Hepburn festivals in the seventies and eighties.. Apart from an occasional heavy-handed Reference to WWII, I was surprised by the intelligence of the dialogue, ad the lack of any overt "communist'message that some film historians ascribed to it.Of course when Ogden Stewart was a Communist he had no ealistic understanding of Stalin's Russia.

Hepburn's part was stronger--and longer- than I recalled though the Breen office's requirement that she die for letting her husband get killed looks contrived.The movie would have been more popular if she and Tracy had been allowed to develop more of a personal bond. Also the photography was SO dark that she sometimes looked downright anorectic!!
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"Clean Death In The Rain"
davidcarniglia30 December 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This is an ambitious attempt to combine a murder mystery with a wartime anti-fascist story. Stephen O'Malley's (Spencer Tracy) tries to tie both themes together by investigating the populist leader Robert Forrest's household after his death. The assortment of odd-ball characters add a lot to the plot, and keep the suspense humming along for most of the movie.

We've got Forrest's secretary, groundskeeper, cousin, not to mention his mother and even his wife (Katherine Hepburn's Christine) as suspects. The cab driver has tossed a few coins into the fountain as well--who wouldn't like a character named Orion Peabody? I agree with the reviewers who feels that the movie works pretty much as a folk or gothic tale: mansions, accidents/murders, remote settings, and meandering plots playing out in the dark. However, things start out briskly. We're set up with a montage of Forrest's proto-fascist events, the embryonic Hitler Youth-style group of earnest teenagers, and Steve's quest to get at the recent widow to land his big story, all sprinkled wth the authentic gaggle of fellow journalists, particularly Jane (Audrey Christie) as his wing-man (woman).

Steve, though, basically bulldozers his way to the story; notably just walking into both Christine's and her mother-in-law's (Margaret Wycherly's) houses. It would be better if he were a detective or government agent. Although he's stalled or rebuffed here and there, he soon assumes the role of an old family friend or distant relation; that is, one who might not be favored, but cannot just be sent packing. Why should Christine agree to help him after her rather feeble resistance? It makes sense that she'd want to expose his fascist intent, or, on a more wifely level, his infidelity with the groundskeeper's daughter. But, hasn't she caused his death by withholding knowledge that would have prevented his accident? How come she isn't made to account for this?

What happens is that the anti-fascist theme blots out the murder mystery. In other words, her actions are presented as self-evidently justified. If Steve had been the law, maybe she's arrested for manslaughter, but then a jury decides that the crime was justified. That's a more consistent way to show the inherent power in the rule of law against taking the law in your own hands. The two themes started out complimenting each other, but, unfortunately, we get stuck with Christine's 'speech' which takes us out of the theatre, so to speak, and into the classroom. The political theme could've been shown, had there been more scenes with the youth group, and maybe have Robert as an actual character, with flashbacks to color-in his populist appeal. Instead, the movie just ceases to entertain when it lectures.

Actually, the content of her 'speech' is very well-written; the sympathy for the common German places the blame squarely on the influence of fascism; it made more sense to find some sort of explanation for the war other than expecting the public to simply hate Germans. This, however, is what you might expect from a newsreel from the front. Keeper Of The Flame makes a strong political message dramatically without this billboard put up

The other issue was that Steve and Christine are neither likeable characters, nor show much liking for each other. As someone else aptly said in their review, this is "a flabby Jane Eyre." When the minor characters are the only interesting ones, there's something wrong. Still, this is entertaining; especially the first part, and for some of the atmospheric touches--it's great when a thunderstorm strikes up just as old Mrs. Forrester starts going on about Robert and the family. Worth watching, but ultimately kind of disappointing. 6/10.
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Story Prevails Over Star-Power and Flag-Waving
dougdoepke3 September 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Behind the WWII patriotics lies an important moral, good for most any age. Namely, that behind a grandiose image may lie a contrary and sneaky reality. In short, a manufactured image may be created in order to keep a difficult truth away from the public. That's especially true, of course, in the political world. In the movie, it's the reality of fascist sentiments lying behind war hero Forrest's national image that's being hidden. As a result, these are ready for use in edging US policy in a direction favorable to European fascists. It's only after reporter Tracy's persistent digging that he discovers the truth that finally comes from Forrest's conflicted wife Hepburn. She's torn between protecting image for the nation's sake, and knowing the reality that means propping up a lie. Fortunately, Tracy's search and Hepburn's ambiguous response rivet audience interest despite the dated context.

The flick's expertly directed by ace MGM director Cukor. And even though scenes never leave the studio, the outdoor sets are atmospherically designed. In their non-romantic parts, Tracy and Hepburn get to show that story can come first. He's low-key the whole way (count his smiles, I stopped at 1). Also, the often stagy Hepburn manages to keep her emoting under control, even that last extended confession. Thus, it's the story's message more than the celebrated actors that remains uppermost. And that's understandable, given the likely 1942 production date. Note too, how the screenplay ultimately relies on ability of American citizens to deal with the harsh truth about Forrest rather than the comforting image. That's certainly an affirmative message for a fraught time.

Anyway, the 100-minutes is dated in many ways, but the dramatic alert about political images and harsh reality remains as timely now as ever.
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The Changing American Hero
plheyrman6 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"Keeper of the Flame" is the most fascinating, and least appreciated of the Hepburn-Tracy pairings. To fully understand it, a viewer must look at when it was made. Though not a war movie, it's one of Hollywood's earliest World War II propaganda films, portraying American attitudes just before Pearl Harbor.

It begins with businessman-statesman-hero, Robert Forrest, dying in a suspicious car crash in September, 1941. Forrest's heroics came in World War I. His unit saw heavy action in the Argonne, and Forrest saved many lives, including that of his commanding officer. We aren't told what he did after the war, but from the comments about him we can assume that his good deeds continued. He founded a nationwide club dedicated to patriotism. His followers idolize him. Tracy plays a reporter just returned from Germany, to an America still fighting internal battles between isolationists and interventionists. O'Malley is an interventionist and loyal Forrest follower.

Forrest's story is ending in 1941, but the movie was made the following year, a watershed. The isolationist-interventionist battles raged right up to the morning of Pearl Harbor. FDR-led interventionists fought the heroic Charles Lindbergh and the isolationists. Was Lindbergh Forrest's model? If so, he was no more than a point of departure. Forrest heroics came in battle, not in the sky. This son of servants went on to make a huge fortune and employ a full staff of servants on his vast estate.

Unlike Forrest, Lindbergh was born into the upper middle class. His congressman-father wasn't rich, but the family had servants, and Lindbergh did a short stint in college. Too young for World War I, his only politics were aviation until the worldwide drift toward war in the late '30s. He married a woman about his own age, and began a family. He didn't like fame, and was suspicious of reporters. During the media blitz following his son's kidnapping his suspicions evolved into outright hostility. Nothing we know of Forrest corresponds with any of this. Lindbergh looks to be a model in only two general ways: isolationism and past heroics.

The 1942 watershed affected all American heroes. Nations always love their heroes, but in the years between the wars, America practiced hero-worship almost as a national pastime. This era of gangsters and corruption also had Sergeant York, Babe Ruth, Elliott Ness and J. Edgar Hoover. Women idolized Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt. Even our presidents had to be heroes. Hoover was elected because he'd fed millions of starving children in World War I. When the Depression tarnished him, Americans looked to FDR who'd heroically fought polio.

This was the world Robert Forrest occupied. It was about to change. World War II altered our ideas about heroes. We built a working man's army filled with depression-bred young people who hated the idea of battle, but were happy to have jobs. On land and sea they did what they must, taking each island and milepost as chores that had to be done. Men fought, killed, and died, the milepost was reached, the island fell, and it was on the next chore.

Our heroes became dirty men who were likely to get dirtier. Their rules were made to bend a little. As our GIs altered our notion of "hero," our support for them never wavered. Now any hero who looked too good drew suspicion. We gained more respect for dirty hands, and less for smooth, clean faces. As we questioned the world, we also traded myth for reality.

The real life isolationist movement had a huge influence on American thinking right up to December 7, 1941. Up until that morning Charles Lindbergh opposed entering the war with everything he had. After Pearl Harbor isolationism fell into sudden, and nearly total disrepute, taking its hero with it. When Lindbergh tried to volunteer for war service, Roosevelt froze him out. By the time the war ended, many had lost track of "Lucky Lindy." Heroism had morphed into something that was fleeting, unless accompanied by a leavening of sin. We gravitated to anti-heroes,trading Errol Flynn for Humphrey Bogart at the box office. Even FDR was gone, replaced by the far grittier Truman.

The beginning of this shift is what "Keeper of the Flame" is all about. Even in death Robert Forrest is at war with himself. It's the age-old conflict of myth-versus-reality. This plays out in the arc of Hepburn's performance, while Tracy prods her, and himself, toward an elusive truth.

Perhaps the best thing abut this movie is something its original audiences couldn't see: it looks back at an America that might have gone either way, but it also has a fascinating vision of what was to come. It spoke to a new notion of individualism, one that doesn't rely on heroism or wealth. It celebrated people who think for themselves, and look at their leaders critically.

Now we can watch it, and make up our own minds about whether that vision was prescient, wildly off-base, or somewhere in between. I recommend it to anyone who likes a good mystery, but also to all viewers who have an interest in American history.
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