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Remind Me

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Long unavailable to the general public, producer Walter Wanger's production of Blockade (1938), a fictional dramatization of the Spanish Civil War, comes to DVD courtesy of Image Entertainment. Since the United States was officially petrified in a state of non-commitment to either side of the European turmoil, Hollywood was equally resistant to telling a story from either sides' point of view. But Wanger, one of Hollywood's most brilliant producers, was morally courageous and politically impassioned enough to mount such a project.

Marco (Henry Fonda) is a simple farmer driven from his land by troops of invading soldiers, presumably belonging to Nationalist general Francisco Franco. After giving an impassioned plea declaring the need for freedom from tyranny, Marco's fellow peasants soon follow him as their leader. Marco becomes a member of the anti-Franco Loyalist forces, and his strong words and fierce beliefs allow him to rise through the ranks and become a key member of the struggle. While stationed in a city under blockade, Marco becomes enamored with Norma (Madeleine Carroll), who serves as a compromised spy for Franco forces, her sympathies laying less with Franco policies than for the safety of her family, who live in an occupied territory. Despite their differences, Norma finds herself swayed by Marco's impassioned call to stop the murder of the innocent people of Spain.

Wanger was widely criticized for making a seemingly reckless venture, given the uncertain political climate and the unlikely commercial prospects of the picture. And indeed, the story, written by John Howard Lawson, was crippled by concessions and contradictions for commercial viability in America and in Europe, making the film too ambiguous. Marco's sympathies, for example, are unclear since Spanish landowners almost all sided with Franco. And as Matthew Bernstein points out in his biography Walter Wanger: Hollywood Independent, the scenes showing Loyalist women praying for relief from the Franco-enforced food blockade were highly inaccurate, given the fact that the Loyalists discouraged and punished religious expression.

Despite its artistic and commercial foibles, Blockade can now be appreciated as a noble failure and it's certainly indicative of pre-World War II Hollywood's hesitation in speaking up for something higher than itself. Moreover, it proves the importance of independent producers like Wanger, who would soon lose their powerful voice in Hollywood after the fall of the studio system in the postwar era.

For more information about Blockade, visit the distributor's web site at Image Entertainment, Inc.. To purchase Blockade, visit TCM's online store.

by Scott McGee