“Keeper of the Flame” (1942): Tracy, Hepburn… and Lindbergh

Keeper Of the Flame posterI just caught a showing of George Cukor’s 1942 Keeper of the Flame, a somewhat unconventional vehicle for Hollywood stars Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.

It’s only their second movie together (out of a eventual total of nine), and unlike most of the others–like Pat and Mike or Woman of the Year–it’s not a romantic comedy.  Keeper of the Flame tells the story of a famous and affluent hero of the Great War, who, before the movie starts, has died in an accident.  “Robert Forrest’s” widow (Hepburn) is keeping some secrets about her husband, and a reporter (Tracy) sets out to find the real story. Turns out that this nationally admired hero was actually a Fascist, who was intending to mount a right-wing takeover of the US government.  In the words of the Turner Classic Movies synopsis, the Hepburn character confesses to Tracy that “the masses’ worship of her husband transformed him into an arrogant, power hungry monster intent on smashing democracy.”

TCM’s Robert Osborne said that some people believed the (never-seen) character of Forrest was based on Charles Lindbergh, though others saw echoes of William Randolph Hearst.  At least one “reviewer” on the Internet Movie Database website goes further with the Lindbergh comparison, and writes that the character–who was said in the movie to have considered running for president–provided a “prototype” for Philip Roth’s Lindbergh in The Plot Against America:

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 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.

It seems to me a little thin:  there really is very little about the character or his family or the few details about his wartime heroics that suggests anything but the slightest resemblance to Lindbergh.  To me, the movie reflects a rather more generalized (and, by late 1942, somewhat outdated) fear of the presence of a “Fifth Column” of secret traitors in the government, and a skepticism about heroes that was becoming more and more widespread in American culture.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s