Blockade (1938)

blockade

  • directed by William Dieterle
  • starring Madeleine Carroll, Henry Fonda, Leo Carrillo, John Halliday, Vladimir Sokoloff, Robert Warwick, Reginald Denny, Carlos De Valdez
  • A peasant farmer is forced to take up arms to defend his land during the Spanish Civil War. Along the way he falls for a woman whose father is a Russian spy.

“You may escape with your lives but you’ll have nothing to live for.”

“The most important film of 1938,” was the tagline attached to Blockade, a movie technically about the Spanish Civil War that was released in the middle of the conflict. The descriptors “topical,” “groundbreaking,” and “controversial” may have also been found as buzzwords on the film’s marketing materials. There is a wide expanse of territory between what producers and the politically-minded writer John Howard Lawson thought they were making and what ended up on the screen however. I have no doubt that there are one-panel political cartoons released during this time that dealt with the Spanish Civil War in more poignant terms.

What else can you say about a movie that is terrified of saying anything. One that turns its back completely on the subject matter in its blood. Socially and politically, The Spanish Civil War was a complicated issue and yet Blockade had so little to say about it that the two factions fighting it—the Nazi-backed Francisco Franco-led Nationalists and The Republicans or Loyalists—were not once mentioned by name. There were clues as to which side Henry Fonda’s people’s militia and the spy-heavy opposition represented but uniforms were altered and the script so convoluted that the story of good guys versus bad guys could have taken place during any historical conflict. Its main generic goal was shrinking the monumental conflict down to one village, and then one farm, and then one man, to speak of the toll that war has on a country’s civilian population. The movie then went on to give no context to why any of it was actually happening.

Blockade was a Spanish Civil War movie in the same way a much more important film of 1938, The Adventures of Robin Hood, was about King Richard’s role in the Third Crusade. A tame romance and espionage won out at the expense of, you know, actual information or warning about the current rise of fascism in Europe. If it wasn’t bad enough that the aim of the production was many levels higher than the execution, consider the fourth wall-breaking, hollow ending speech by Fonda’s Marco who turns directly into the camera to ponder “where is the conscience of the world” to allow such atrocities to take place?

“Atrocities where and by whom?” audience members may have asked themselves after watching a movie based on current reality that seems to intentionally disorient those who watch it. “I hear Hemingway is writing a Spanish Civil War-set novel right now, let’s just wait for that,” one of them surely added while walking out of the theater.

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About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

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