Keeper of the Flame (1942)
Yesterday whilst buying supplies for my commission I came across a special publication by Time Magazine that was marking the 10th anniversary of Katharine Hepburn‘s death. An odd thing to do, but for such a celebrated figure in film, I couldn’t at least flick through the pages. I didn’t buy, but the idea of watching one of her films did that night. I settled on another that I hadn’t seen Keeper of the Flame (1942) paired opposite Spencer Tracy once more. I thought I was in for another couple who sparks would fly between them, Instead it was more a flexing of the acting muscle, not what i was expecting from them both. It was a fresh change too
A renowned journalist Steven ‘Stevie’ O’Malley (Tracy) fresh returned from Germany is in the home town of famous war hero who had fallen to his death from a bridge that collapsed. A town is in mourning, swamped in reporters who want the big story. Not O’Malley who is joined by his colleagues who are just like the rest. Wanting instead the story behind the man, the hero, the traditional “what makes him tick” story. Something which proves to be a hard task.
First meeting resistance, saying that being able to just reach his widow Mrs. Christine Forrest (Hepburn) was a task, meeting refusals at every turn, until he used a little of his charm to get into the home of the Forrest. We find Mrs. Christine Forrest with her mind else where, too pre-occupied with other matters to really answer any questions, not up to the task that O’Malley is asking her for. Until she is persuaded by her husbands secretary, who constantly urges and helps O’Malley’s efforts from finding records to recordings of speeches. More than willing compared to Christine Forrest.
The plot thicken with her cousin Geoffrey ‘Geoff’ Midford (Forrest Tucker) back in the family fold, held back due to hatred between him and Forrest. And the gatekeepers family. There is a lot for the audience and O’Malley to keep him going from one to the other. Almost becoming a member of the family, yet always held back, given only half the story and the truth. THe truth is what is being hidden.
He has to dig deeper, using all his skills before he can take no more after meeting the Forrest’s mother who is senile, someone who the family want to hide at all costs. When finally O’Malley can take no more he finally learns the dark truth, the lengths that have been taken to cover it. A rare film that shows that it’s ok to speak about the truth, not hiding it from the public who maybe hurt. To tell us gains respect, unlike today when the truth is moderated and censored in order to protect. Also in the built up to a possible war in Europe the truth could be hidden for the sake of moral. But when a hero is no longer that great figure, do we have a right to spoil that image? Or should we be treated like adults, see the human frailties that can change a man or woman?
Far darker in tone, marking a change in story telling in Hollywood, as they are aware of the countries tense state as half the world is at war, whilst they are in a state of isolationism. We also have Hepburn playing against type, of course still a member of the aristocracy, with a conscience that makes her live her life differently. Gone are the carefree days of Philadelphia Story (1940), which saw her able to marry who she please, caring about public image but not in the way. Whilst Tracy is the all American in search of the truth, holding up national ideals that would see them stay strong.
- Katharine Hepburn Box Office Hits 1933 – 1994 (boxofficechampions.wordpress.com)
- The African Queen – 1951 (bogiefilmblog.wordpress.com)
- The Hepburn-Tracy Project, #2: “Keeper of the Flame” (George Cukor, 1942) (somecamerunning.typepad.com)
- The Hepburn-Tracy Project, #1: “Woman of the Year” (George Stevens, 1942) (somecamerunning.typepad.com)