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A simple peasant is forced to take up arms to defend his farm during the Spanish Civil War. Along the way he falls in love with Russian whose father is involved in espionage. Written by
Herman Seifer <email@example.com>
Producer Walter Wanger was not deterred by pre-release threats of problems and boycotts from pro-fascist foreign governments. He responded, "Not only do we meekly take intimidation from abroad, but we jump obediently when almost anybody in this country says, 'Frog!' It's ridiculous, and I, for one, don't intend to continue. I'm going to release this Spanish picture as is, and if it's banned in Europe, I'll have to take my loss.". See more »
Where is the conscience of the world?
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John Howard Lawson joined the CPUSA in 1934 and announced that he would try to "present the Communist position" in his scripts. On the face of it, he didn't get far in "Blockade", a notoriously timid Spanish Civil War pic released while it was still being fought. Publicity promised that "the story does not attempt to favour any cause"; even the uniforms were ambiguous.
The factions are referred to only as "Them" (invaders) and "Us" (invaded). The casus belli is no more than Their attempt to purloin Our land, a valley near Granada. What ensues is personalised, studio-bound melodrama. Heroic amateur soldier Henry Fonda stiffens his fellow peasants' backs to resist the grab. He woos blonde White Russian adventuress Madeleine Carroll and finally demands foreign intervention in a Chaplinesque harangue to camera: "Where's the conscience of the world?"
It all savours of Hays Office intervention and the anxiety of Lawson's "progressive" producer, Walter Wanger, not to provoke the US public by charging them for a liberal sermon. But "Blockade" may be subtler agitprop than it seems.
By 1938 anybody who read a paper or watched "The March of Time" would infer that Fonda stands for the Republic fending off General Franco's Nazi- and Fascist-backed Nationalists-- not the other way round. And Lawson's emphasis on small farmers guarding their ancestral acreage is just what Stalin ordered. In reality the country round Granada was a hotbed of anarchist schemes for collectivising agriculture, but the Communist line was that the Republic's left-front government, including democratic socialists and liberals, must be sustained till the rebel generals were routed. Only then could land reform be considered; reform under the aegis of a Communist-dominated regime subservient to Moscow, which would nationalise the land, not parcel it out to dubious anarchic types.
Moreover, Lawson must have relished making Carroll's character an exiled daughter of Russia with a crooked anti-Red father, who sees the light in Fonda's arms.
We laugh at movies such as this and "Last Train from Madrid" for their superficial, sentimental view of a burning issue. But what right has today's supposedly more liberated Hollwood to laugh? Where were Vietnam films during the conflict, apart from John Wayne's "Green Berets"? How many Gulf War or Enduring Freedom stories have we seen? How many portrayals of radical Islam, pro or anti? Hollywood is more gutlessly evasive than ever during our dangerous times. Well, export markets provide more of its profit margin than 60 years ago...
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