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Keeper of the Flame

Keeper of the Flame(1942)

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When venerated World War I hero Robert Forrest dies in an automobile accident, the nation mourns his loss and the press congregates outside the gates of his estate in pursuit of a story. Just returned from Berlin, esteemed war correspondent Steven O'Malley joins his peers Freddie Ridges and Jane Harding, but remains aloof from the pack. As Freddie questions the police report of Forrest's death, Steven maintains that he wants to write the story of Forrest's life as an inspiration for the "dark days ahead." To placate the journalists, Forrest's private secretary, Clive Kerndon, holds a press conference. Determined to win an interview with Forrest's widow Christine, Steven takes a taxi to the estate but is turned away by the gatekeeper, Jason Rickards, an embittered man who cryptically states that he was Forrest's top sergeant until a war wound relegated him to gatekeeper. As Steven walks away, he notices a sobbing little boy, Jason's son Jeb, who blames himself for his idol Forrest's death because he failed to warn him about the precarious state of the bridge that collapsed under the weight of Forrest's car, sending him crashing to his death in the river below. After Steven consoles Jeb and explains his mission, the boy agrees to lead him along a secret path to the Forrest house. There, Steven watches as Christine reverently arranges a bouquet of flowers in front of her late husband's portrait. After Christine refuses to help Steven write his "memorial to her late husband's memory," Kerndon privately rebukes her and warns her to cooperate lest Steven become suspicious of her behavior. As Steven drives back to the hotel, his talkative cab driver, Orion Peabody, gossips about the animosity that existed between Forrest and Christine's cousin, Geoffrey Midford. Soon after Steven retires to his room, Christine appears at the hotel and offers to help him write her husband's story, and they arrange to meet the following day at her house. From his hotel room window, Steven watches as Christine drives away with Geoffrey. On the taxi ride to the Forrest estate the next day, Orion chats away about Christine paying the overdue mortgage on Geoffrey's farm. Distracted, Orion runs into Dr. Fielding's car and Steven learns that the doctor has come to the gatehouse to treat Jeb, who has fallen ill with a fever. As the ailing boy tells Steve about his sister Janet, who worked as Forrest's secretary until she abruptly went away, Jason enters the room and interrupts their conversation. Picking up the gatehouse phone, Steven calls the big house but is instead connected to Forrest's elderly mother. When Jason forbids Steven to use the phone, Steven begins to suspect that he is hiding something. Upon returning to his hotel, Steven finds a group of children from Forward America, the youth group founded by Forrest, waiting there with a deep sense of loss because Christine has refused to see them. The next day, Steven returns to the Forrest house and is surprised that Christine has left on a mysterious trip with Geoffrey. When Steven questions Kerndon about Forrest's mother, Kerndon discourages him from approaching her. Later, Steven asks the doctor about Jeb's sister and he replies that the girl was sent to a sanitarium after suffering a nervous breakdown. After returning from her trip, Christine visits Jeb at the gatehouse and Steven finds her there. On the drive back to the big house, Steven asks Christine about a windowless stone building on the property and she responds that is the arsenal, the place that her husband went to collect his thoughts. As Steven studies Forrest's papers at the house, Kerndon berates Christine for failing to give him the keys to the arsenal in her absence. Afterward, Christine runs out to the stone building, piles papers from her husband's desk into the fireplace and sets them on fire. Questioned by Steven about the stone building, Kerndon lies that it is a storehouse. When Steven leaves the house for a stroll, the panicky Kerndon calls New York to reassure his superior that he will "take care" of the arsenal. After meeting Christine at the door to the arsenal, Steven proceeds with her to the stable, where her horse is being treated for an leg injury he suffered on the day of Forrest's accident. Steven is skeptical when Christine explains that her horse's mishap prevented her from riding to the bridge and discovering that it had collapsed. As the two mount up for a ride, Steven confides that he thinks the bridge was sabotaged and implores Christine to trust him. They then ride to Forrest's mother's house where the demented woman raves on about her son's murder and accuses Christine of deliberately failing to warn Forrest about the condition of the bridge. Frustrated, Steven announces that he is abandoning the story and rides back to the house alone. Along the trail, he spots Freddie sketching the broken bridge and finds a discarded horse shoe near the river bank. When Steve discovers that the shoe matches Christine's injured horse's hoof, he realizes that she must have ridden to the bridge. That night, as Kerndon demands that Christine hand over the keys to the arsenal's filing cabinet, Steven knocks at the door, shows her the horse shoe and charges her with her husband's death. After accusing her of complicity with Geoffrey, Steven departs and Christine hurries to destroy the evidence locked within the arsenal. As Steven prepares to leave the estate, he encounters Geoffrey, who introduces him to Janet and announces their engagement. Jason then explains that Geoffrey and Janet had been childhood sweethearts. Janet, suffering from hero worship of Forrest, suffered a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized by Christine and Geoffrey, who had spent the last few days visiting her and arranging for her discharge. Realizing that he has wrongly accused Christine, Steven proceeds to the arsenal, declares his love to Christine and offers his support. Despondent, Christine recounts that the masses' worship of her husband transformed him into an arrogant, power hungry monster intent on smashing democracy. Unlocking the filing cabinet, Christine displays papers documenting Forrest's diabolical scheme to turn Americans against one another, thus weakening the country and enabling the institution of a fascistic form of government. Aware that Forrest was on his way to meet his fellow saboteurs, Christine decided not to warn him that the bridge was out, thus insuring his death. After Christine agrees to help Steven tell her husband's true story, Steven notices smoke pouring into the building and realizes that Kerndon has started a fire. Kerndon then shoots Christine, who dies in Steven's arms, begging him to expose Forrest. After locking Steven inside the burning building, Kerndon runs onto the road and fires at on oncoming car carrying Freddie and Jane. After their vehicle collides with Kerndon, Freddie and Jane rush to the arsenal, break down the door and rescue Steven, who then writes an expose about Forrest and a loving tribute to Christine.