Cradle Will Rock

Cradle Will Rock, not The Cradle Will Rock
Released Dec. 8, 1999, by Buena Vista Pictures, color, digital sound, 137 mins.




It was an historic moment in American theater when the curtains opened on Marc Blitzstein at the Venice Theater July 16, 1937. Sadly, director Tim Robbins tried to imitate Robert Altman in structuring the film Cradle Will Rock, resulting in a kaleidoscope of scenes and characters rather than a cohesive classical narrative. Robbins has praised "the mastery" of Altman in the 1975 non-narrative film Nashville, "being able to interweave and keep all these things balanced and juggled and progressing." And Altman has praised Robbins as "the next Orson Welles." But the non-narrative style distorts the truth of the real story, as Welles distorted the historical truth about Hearst in his 1940 film Citizen Kane. It was a great film, but poor history. Rather than tell this powerful story in a classical Hollywood narrative unfolding around the central characters of Flanagan, Welles, Houseman, and Blitzstein, producer Robbins instead created a complex quilt of several narratives and a multitude of characters. He has Diego Rivera painting a mural for Nelson Rockefeller, even though that story had no relationship to the Federal Theatre Project and took place 5 years earlier. He has Mussolini's mistress Margherita Sarfatti smuggling art to Rockefeller and Hearst. He adds the fictional characters of steel magnate Hall and his countess wife pursuing their own agendas. He puts in a ventriloquist to represent something about the decline of vaudeville.
MacFadyen, Azaria, Elwes
He has Marc Blitzstein seeing the ghosts of his recently deceased wife (Eva Goldbeck died in May 1936 of anorexia) and his mentor Brecht (who did inspire Blitzstein with the challenge: "Why don't you write a piece about all kinds of prostitution - the press, the church, courts, the arts, the whole system?" but no mention of Blitzstein's homosexuality. William Randolph Hearst is again an evil capitalist and Robbins does a slanderous injustice to the character of Marion Davies, as Orson Welles did to Susan Alexander/Marion Davies in Citizen Kane. Elwes and MacFadyen play Houseman and Welles as caricatures of pomposity, and little is learned about their historical significance. There are only vague references to Mussolini, Ethiopia, the Spanish Civil War, the WPA, FDR, Harry Hopkins, the Living Newspaper. It is not surprising that Stanley Kaufmann who lived in those times has written that the film "is a mess."


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History Department | Filmnotes | revised 3/27/03 by Schoenherr