I've waited years for this prescient 1942 film to finally appear on DVD after watching it only on Turner Classic Movies, despite the presence of legendary stars Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. Donald Ogden Stewart's screenplay from the I.A.H. Wylie novel foreshadowed the healthy skepticism needed in these contentious times about supposedly grassroots political movements that hide an agenda unknown to those involved in promoting that movement.
In "Keeper of the Flame"'s opening, we see a car taking a flying leap from a bridge that has been washed out. As we learn from the following montage, the crash killed incredibly wealthy Robert Forrest, who has become, through his self-sponsored "America Forward!" movement, one of the USA's most beloved political figures since Lincoln, though he's never held political office. The world's press has descended on Forrest's hometown to write tributes to The Great Man and interview his widow Christine (Hepburn), who remains unavailable however.
Be forewarned, what follows is not your typical Tracy/Hepburn "Woman of the Year" or "Adam's Rib" romp, which might explain its tardy appearance on disc. Director George Cukor created no real romantic or comic banter between Hepburn's not-so-merry widow and Tracy's investigative reporter Steve O"Malley, although Tracy's fellow reporter Jane Harding, played by a delightfully sardonic Audrey Christie, fills that bill quite nicely. Rather, Cukor spends a great deal of time building suspense around Tracy's subtle peeling back the facade of Forrest's deception in his talks with Hepburn, who agrees to speak with Tracy through the duplicitous encouragement of Forrest's unctuous assistant, slimily played by the dead-on casting of Richard Whorf. The truth does finally comes out at the mansion's Arsenal, where (spoiler alert), it's revealed in hidden documents and money that Forrest was really planning on becoming America's own Nazi Fuehrer. "They didn't call it fascism, of course," says Christine, but "wrapped it up in red, white and blue and called it Americanism." It is this scene alone, with its revelation "...of the utter cynicism of the plan. Each group was to be used and then discarded when their usefulness was ended." that makes the purchase of this DVD essential for anyone who still needs to be reminded in the 21st century that Gadsden Don't Tread On Me flags, tri-corner hats and muskets do not necessarily a patriot make, and the present day media's uncovering of secret corporate and billionaire sponsorship of "astroturf" organizations is still essential.Keeper of the Flame