The Flame doesn't Burn Brightly
For me the best Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn movies were those where they played warring partners, where the chemistry and wicked banter would fly between them and off of the screen. As such I just didn't enjoy "Keeper of the Flame" as whilst there are romantic undertones it is more of a bog standard thriller where we follow Tracy's character as he tries to uncover the truth about the death of a prominent American whilst falling for his widow. Whilst I didn't enjoy "Keeper of the Flame" it doesn't mean it's a bad movie just one which doesn't exploit the partnership of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn to its full potential. In fact in many ways "Keeper of the Flame" could have been a better movie if Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn hadn't starred because whilst neither give a bad performance it is the lack of what you expect from them as a pair which spoils things.
Following the sudden death of American patriot Robert Forrest in a car accident the entire country is thrown into shock. Whilst reporting on the death, journalist and biographer Steven O'Malley (Spencer Tracy - Broken Lance) tries to meet with Forrest's widow Christine (Katharine Hepburn - Woman of the Year) but finds himself being blocked at every turn. Becoming suspicious the dogged O'Malley keeps on going till he finally meets Christine but as he digs around for the truth he finds out more than he expected whilst also finding himself having feelings for Christine.
There is a certain amount of cleverness to the storyline to "Keeper of the Flame" and it does build quite nicely as following the death of prominent American Robert Forrest the whole country goes in to a state of shock and mourning. But journalist and biographer whilst snooping around for a story becomes suspicious and whilst discovering elements of the truth ends up falling for Forrest's widow. This allows things to become complicated because we have the inner turmoil for O'Malley as to whether to do what is right or just right for him and Christine Forrest. And to add to this what O'Malley discovers is not what he expects as the truth not only about Robert Forrest's death but what he actually did appears despite attempts by others to keep it all a secret. It's not a bad storyline although in the attempt to make it more complex and shocking it does get a bit absurd in places, almost laughable when watched now.
The trouble is that whilst the storyline for the most is solidly written and has an element of "Citizen Kane" about it, it just doesn't really grip you. I found myself sitting there watching O'Malley go about his snooping and never getting excited when he discovers something important. And neither did I find my curiosity raised when various people try to block his investigation. And sadly I didn't find the dilemma over his emotional feelings towards Christine Forrest that interesting either. Maybe it's because watching it now after several Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn comedies I expected to see that same chemistry or that I expected it to be darker and more thrilling but something just didn't work and sadly "Keeper of the Flame" failed to get me gripped by the unravelling story.
I actually think part of the trouble is that whilst neither Spencer Tracy or Katharine Hepburn give a bad performance the fact that the storyline restricts their natural partnership makes it feel wrong. As such whilst Tracy was good as O'Malley and Hepburn was his equal as Christine there is part of me which feels that different actors could have made it more interesting. This issue probably didn't occur back in 1942 when "Keeper of the Flame" was released as it was only the second movie which Tracy and Hepburn made together but arises now when you watch it after watching their romantic comedies.
And aside from Tracy and Hepburn no one else really impresses except for Margaret Wycherly who puts in an interesting performance as Robert Forrest's aging mother who is not all there. The way her character flicks from lucid one moment to delusional the next makes it probably the most interesting performance in the whole movie and in fact the scene with her in is also the most interesting.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "Keeper of the Flame" is an okay movie which flows along with deeper political undercurrents it never really manages to get you gripped by what is going on. And whilst neither Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn put in bad performances they are not overly memorable either and maybe the casting of Tracy and Hepburn is part of the issue. As such whilst for the most "Keeper of the Flame" is a solid movie it is also an unremarkable one as well.