KEEPER OF THE FLAME (1942). Directed by George Cukor who brought here Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn together for the first time. Written by Donald Ogden Stewart from an I.A.T. Wylie novel.
Robert Forrest, a powerful billionaire, dies in an accident and the nation mourns this great American. Reporter Tracy investigates tenaciously, talks to his widow (Hepburn), uncovers skeletons in closet, and exposes the dead man as fascist, the creator of an organization called "Forward America."
Its agenda was to fool the common people and to serve the very rich who sought political power. Hepburn did not know this, but the morning of the accident she found incriminating papers.
Her husband, according to her, had started out meaning well, but gradually changed. The documents proved that the organization was against Jews, Catholics, Negroes (sic), Unions, Labor -- and had some appeal for the KKK. The cynical plan was to discard, when the time came, the useless groups, have them kill each other.
Intresting film reeks with influence of CITIZEN KANE (of 1941) and to an extent of MEET JOHN DOE (also of 1941). Not only the search for an influential man's true identity is like KANE's , but the photography by William Daniels (unrelentingly dark), the sets of a Xanadu-ish Big House,the symbolic large iron gates shot from low angles, the Bernard Herrmann-like musical strains ( by Bronislau Kaper), and many other elements recall much of the Orson Welles film.
The unpublished source novel was in fact inspired by William Randolph Hearst, the Kane model. Writer Stewart had troubles with studio head Louis B. Mayer, and later with the HUAC witch hunters. He was blacklisted.
The movie proceeds like a mystery and a film noir, but it is overdramatic, too ponderous, too full of pregnant silences (as well as over-theatrical delivery of dialogue, esp. Hepburn), ambiguous looks (in both senses), purple prose and soulful poses, awful sentimentality and 1942 hero-worship.
Tracy is what the French call " un grand reporter" - a star journalist. Supposedly he travels light and apparently has one smallish suitcase. But suddenly he is dressed in a perfect-fit riding outfit!!
The supporting cast is good though: Actor-director Richard Whorf -- though overdone --as the late man's unctuous secretary; Howard Da Silva, as the bitter, sullen keeper of the grounds, a veteran who had been Forrest's captain during WWI.
The attractive woman who plays Tracy's fellow reporter and rival is very appealing, tough but feminine, humorously flirtatious, "emancipated," cynical - a character not uncommon then but one that has almost disappeared from movies today, perhaps for PC reasons of sexism, feminism and the like.
If Mrs. Forrest senior, the old, insane mother, looks familiar, it's because she is played by English-born actress Margaret Wycherly who, in the 1949 WHITE HEAT, was so extraordinarily effective as the mother of killer James Cagney.
"Keeper," a political-"civilian" film of the WWII period, has some curious ambiguities. Hepburn talks of saboteurs, for example, and one wonders whether the movie's message was one of paranoia, a cautionary tale, or both. There is something for everybody here, including populists or persons with religious faith. (For example, the doctor character, unlike others, is skeptical. He states : "There has been hero-fever ever since we got out of touch with God.")
(Edwin Jahiel notes of 1988 and 1993)