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KEEPER OF THE FLAME

USA, 1942 (MIFF 1999, George Cukor: The Virtuous Sin)

Director: George Cukor

Cukor's last film before World War II was the politically relevant Keeper ot the Flame, concerning itself with a public figure, mysteriously killed, who is revealed by an investigative reporter to have been the leader of an American fascist movement. Heavy stuff for the times, the film resonates with the same fanciful conspiracy theories as anything produced for either television or film in the 90s.

On the heels of Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (released the year before), Cukor weaved an intricate tale with equal measures of mystery and intrigue. Given the proximity of World War II, Keeper of the Flame takes a notably political angle. Using Ida Wylie's novel, screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart sharpened a fierce drama of international cloak and dagger and cover-ups. In traditional 1940s fashion, with a wonderfully love story as counter-point.

Katharine Hepburn plays the widow who lived in the shadow of the man now suspected of having feet of 'fascist clay', and Spencer Tracy plays the newsman digging beneath the public facade. As ever, Cukor exploits the balance between political and romantic issues, where tensions in one work both for and against the other.

Inevitably all films with political tones sufler the test ot time and hindsight, and in this regard Keeper of the Flame is no exception. Yet what has outlived even Cukor's lite is his own mastery of issues which once were foremost in the American psyche. As ever, Hepburn and Tracy deliver superb, golden performances—with plenty of cool embraces and weighty dialogue so easily rolled off the tongue. As a signifier of both the times and a distinguished point in the history of Hollywood, Keeper ol the Flame is an important slice of Cukor's history.

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