Keeper of the Flame (1942) Directed by George Cukor. With Spencer Tracy and Kathrine Hepburn.
36 Hours (1965) Directed by George Seaton. With James Gardner, Eva Marie Saint, and Rod Taylor
The “truth of the matter” can be an elusive concept. What is real? This is the persistent theme in the works of Philip K. Dick. In Total Recall, Douglas Quaid discovers he is not who he believed himself to be. His life was just a manufactured dream.
Time can be an aid to a possible falsehood. What began as an election year political smear, possibly based in truth, against Thomas Jefferson, was two hundred years later an accepted fact. Proponents of this new truth reached a conclusion ,and then discovered evidence to support it. To question this counter-historical methodology is to invite charges of racism.
In Keeper of the Flame, un-elected national leader Robert Forrest is killed when he drives off a washed-out bridge on his huge mountain top estate during a violent thunderstorm shortly before America’s entry into World War II. The source of his wealth is never revealed (it is implied he was the manufacturer of small arms), but his financial success is secondary to his status as a modern combination of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. He personifies the American Ideal.
Forrest’s fame began as a result of a heroic act in the Argonne Forest in the Great War. One of obituaries appearing in a clearly proForrest newspaper offers a view of his bravery. It is reminiscent the sort of bizarre adulation seen for our current president as might be seen on Fox News:
“That tattered scarecrow youth standing in a sort of ecstasy of faith…..against all the blazing powers of hell. ” His men had a “superstitious belief…..that while he was on his feet no harm could come to them”.
Bone spurs separated Donald Trump from military glory.
appears to be the American standard bearer in face of European
fascism in his newspaper articles and radio broadcasts.
For members of Forrest’s Forward America Association, his death is similar to the fall of the Alamo or Custer’s Last Stand. Fans and reporters rush to his hometown of Ashburton, in a unidentified state. Among them is Stephen O’Malley (think Richard Harding Davis or Vincent Sheean) played by Spencer Tracy, a true believer, just deported from Germany for offending Hitler. Alone among the other reporters, he wants to write Forrest’s life story. He is sure such a book would be a comfort to all Americans in the, “dark days ahead”.
The key to the story is Forrest’s widow, Christine, an almost ethereal Kathrine Hepburn, first seen dressed in an angelic white gown. Is she the keeper of the flame, the true custodian of the Forrest legacy? Does that title belong, like Mrs. Danvers of Rebecca, to the private secretary Richard Whorf (Clive Kerndon)?
After O’Malley encounters a grief stricken small boy convinced he caused the death of his beloved leader, the narrative becomes a film noir mystery. To understand Forrest’s life is to learn why he had to die.
George Cukor’s direction is indebted to cinematographer William Daniels (Erich von Stroheim’s cameraman, and Garbo’s favorite). O’Malley’s evolution from ignorance through misunderstanding to realization is expressed in the lighting. From darkness to shadows to full realization.
The film was shot almost entirely on a sound stage, including good looking but oblivious green sets, and some clumsy matte work. The exception is a short, backlot second unit exterior sequence.
No matter where is was filmed, it is amazing a clearly antifascist warning was made so soon after the beginning to the War. Had the Japanese Empire not attacked Pearl Harbor and Hitler not declared war on the US, it likely would not have been made at all. If for no other reason, Hitler’s man in Hollywood, Georg Gyssling exercised considerable influence over the majors with regard to the subject and content of movies. Studios that did not knuckle-under, had their films banned from the lucrative German market.
In 36 Hours, an WorldWar II American intelligence officer is drugged and kidnapped by German agents on a mission to Lisbon, only to wake-up six years later. The war is over, the Allies won. Hitler dead and his Nazi thugs hanged.
Major Jefferson Pike, James Gardner, has detailed knowledge of the Normandy invasion. The Germans believe the invasion will take place at the most logical place. Pas de Calais, the closest cross channel route. They want to be sure.
American born German doctor Major Walter Gerber (Rod Taylor) devised a plan based on a therapy he developed to aid traumatized Wehrmacht soldiers. He convinces them the war is over after a drug induced sleep. Gerber has 36 hours to get the invasion plan from Pike before the Gestapo thugs take over.
Pike wakes-up in what he is told a American Army hospital in occupied Germany. He experiences a persistent and reoccurring amnesia as a result of his brutal interrogation by Abwehr agents, or so he is told. He needs glasses to read and his hair is turning gray. He has been provided with a lovely German nurse/wife named Anna Hadler (a marriage he has no memory of) played by Eva Marie Saint. Until recently, she was an inmate at the Ravensbruck concentration camp, and will play any roll needed of her in order not to return.
In the guise of therapy, Gerber interrogates Pike in a round-about manner, and learns the truth. The invasion is at Normandy, in just a couple of days. Like in many intelligence coups, the high command does not believe it. It goes against sound military thinking.
Like a bolt out of the blue, Pike realizes the truth. In London the day before he left for Lisbon, he suffered a paper cut in a fold in the skin of his finger. It would not be painful after a few days, let alone six years. He is able to enlist the aid of nurse Hadler, and finally Major Gerber, who was a physician first and an Wehrmacht officer a distant second.
The truth for Stephen O’Malley was a layered the mystery riddled with false assumptions. The truth of the matter became obvious for both Pike and O’Malley.