Monday, August 3, 2015

Movie: Tracy-Hepburn Noir “Keeper of the Flame”

The Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn films that first come to mind are the comedies, like “Adam’s Rib” and “Pat and Mike,” but of the nine films the famous couple made together, nearly half of them were dramas, and one of those could be considered film noir.

“Keeper of the Flame,” from 1942, is the story of the media circus caused by the death of a wealthy and prominent businessman and self-appointed spokesman for Americanism, Robert Forrest. Reporters from all over descend on the little town in which he lived, but none can get an interview with the grieving widow, Christine Forrest, played by Hepburn. The only one to succeed in getting through to her is foreign correspondent, Stephen O’Malley, played by Tracy.

Recently returned from Europe where he has seen too much death and destruction during WW2, O’Malley decides to write a positive biography about Forrest, a man much loved by the public. But while gently probing into the accidental death of Forrest in a car crash, O’Malley comes to suspect the death was not accidental. The more he investigates, the more skeletons he finds in Forrest’s closet. The hero worship fades as O’Malley realizes the great man was not so great.

“Keeper of the Flame,” an MGM picture, was directed by George Cukor, a great friend of both Tracy and Hepburn. He directed eight of her movies, and allowed Tracy to live in the guest house on his grounds. Cukor was known as an actor’s director and a director of comedies and women’s pictures, but he also did some serious dramas and several noirish crime films, like this one and 1947s “A Double Life” with Ronald Colman. The Cukor touch can be seen in the many long takes in which he allows Tracy and Hepburn to play scenes with no cuts. He also brought a low-key style to the picture, both in the quiet, subdued acting and in the deep, shadowy lighting, the later thanks to ace cinematographer William Daniels.

Also appearing in “Keeper of the Flame” are Richard Whorf (a good but overlooked actor who the same year played Sam Harris to James Cagney’s George M. Cohan in “Yankee Doodle Dandy”) here as the manipulative secretary to Forrest, Margaret Wycherly (who played Cagney’s mother in “White Heat”) here playing Forrest’s mother, Howard Da Silva, Darryl Hickman, and Forrest Tucker.


  1. I find it hard to believe but I don't think I have ever seen this one!

    1. Patti – This one show up regularly on TCM. I hope you can catch it sometime.

  2. Elgin, I have seen a few of Katherine Hepburn's films and those may have included some with Spencer Tracy. I have not seen "Keeper of the Flame." I miss TCM since my cable operator took the channel off the air a few years ago.

  3. Sorry to hear that, Prashant. My parents lost TCM and were quite unhappy, to put it mildly. I would really miss it. Baseball, news and TCM account for most of my summer tube time.

  4. I'm another who's missed this one so far...I'm surprised at how few of the Hepburn-Tracy films I've seen so far. This one sounds interesting, to say the least.