In 1930s New York Orson Welles tries to stage a musical on a steel strike under the Federal Theater Program despite pressure from an establishment fearful of industrial unrest and red activity. Meanwhile Nelson Rockefeller gets the foyer of his company headquarters decorated and an Italian countess sells paintings for Mussolini. Written by
This film is based on actual events, though it takes liberties with the details. Marc Blitzstein's 1937 anti-capitalist operetta 'The Cradle Will Rock', about the effort to unionize steelworkers, was originally produced as part of the Federal Theatre Project. The Federal Theatre Project (1935-1939), in turn, was part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which was created in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to employ people during the Great Depression. Directed by Orson Welles and produced by John Houseman, Cradle was shut down right before it was due to open because of "budget cuts" at the FTP. Everyone involved believed the government deliberately cut funding because the play's message offended its more conservative contingent; Actor's Equity prohibited its members from taking part, apparently oblivious to the fact that Cradle was a pro-union piece and Actor's Equity was - and is - a union. Welles, Housman and Blitzstein spontaneously rented another theater and planned to put on Cradle with Blitzstein himself singing/reading the piece; the show sold out and various actors defied Equity and performed their parts from the seats they'd bought. The secondary plot which involved Mexican painter Diego Rivera butting heads with Nelson Rockefeller when the mural the latter commissioned for a Rockefeller Center lobby on the high-minded subject of "human intelligence in control of the forces of nature" included a portrait of Lenin, is also based on fact, though it happened in 1933. The incident is also dramatized in the 2002 film Frida (2002). Tim Robbins included it because it tied into the theme of artistic integrity vs. economic practicality. See more »
During the discussion in the Federal Theatre Project office early in the film, a (color) wall map of the USA can be seen including Alaska and Hawaii. Neither of these states were part of the union in 1936, but were U.S. territories. See more »
There is a heart in the credit roll with the following initials inside; SS, EMLA, JHR & MGR (SS is likely 'Susan Sarandon,' EMLA for Sarandon's daughter Eva Amurri, JHR & MGR for Robbins' & Sarandon's sons Jack Henry & Miles Robbins). See more »
Artsy, elegant manifesto with fascinating sub-plots and details.
Based on the events that occurred in post Depression era New York in 1936, `The Cradle Will Rock' is a spectacular extravaganza of people, places, and most of all, cultures. Truly an exemplary take on the battle of radicals and corporates, art and politics when they could be united in a common bond. Thus, it is only suiting that such a film be directed by uber-liberalist Tim Robbins. This picture simply wouldn't have worked without him.
From an overhead point of view, this is the cinematic equivalent of a protest- a real bite on shady politics. But in actuality it is something far deeper, focusing on numerous interesting sub-plots and taking in everyone's point of view. The backdrop is the closing down of a theatrical play when it is accused of being communist. Throughout the 135 minutes, we take in all of the different `isms'- fascism, capitalism, communism, Nazism, Catholicism and Judaism. Not only does this require a passing knowledge on these people and events; one must have an interest in the proceedings to get the most out of it.
One reason why there have been some negative reviews is because people are confused as to why Diego Riviera, Margherreta Sarfatti etc. are in the story. I can explain. Rather like `Magnolia (which followed on totally dissimilar outlines), you have to read the sub-text. This is a movie about passion for art and music. Marc Blitzein, Hazel Huffman and Diego Riviera (and all connected) had a deep passion for their work that the authorities would soon destroy because of rules and regulations.
Interesting is the fact that all the characters are based on true life people, and Robbins has assembled a fine cast who give noteworthy performances all across the board. One of the hardest to portray has to be Orson Welles. It's a true fact that 21-year-olds from the 1930's look much older than those from the 90's. No one wanted to see James Van Der Beek/ Casper Van Dien in the role. Thus, Angus MacFadyen was a superb choice, portraying Welles as an egotistical, self-centred man. Equally impressive is Susan Sarandon (with an impeccable exotic accent) as a Jewish Fascist art dealer. She knows exactly what she's doing and highlights some of the best scenes. Other standouts include John Cusack's aristocratic Nelson Rockafeller and Cary Elwes' interpretation of flamboyant producer/ soon-to-be Oscar winner (`The Paper Chase'- 1973) John Houseman.
If there were a flaw, it would have to be the last 15-20 minutes. What, for the most part, is an illustrious, brilliant character study later dissipates into a shiny-smiley low glitz `Singin In the Rain' effort. Such a shame, because the film was doing so tremendously up until that point. Then of course, it is 135 minutes long so much of that final sequence could and should have been excised.
Nevertheless, if you can forgive that, you have a remarkable, audacious film on hand. `The Cradle Will Rock' truly is an overseen landmark in ensembles, biopics and interweaving. By far Robbins best movie yet, the sub-plots are equally impressive from Blitzstein's paranoid delusions to Constance La Grange's over-the-top characteristics. If you are in any way interested in fascism, communism etc. then don't miss this polished, spirited picture. My IMDb rating: 7.6/10.
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