Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1999. Cradle Productions Inc., Havoc, Touchstone Pictures. Screenplay by Tim Robbins. Cinematography by Jean-Yves Escoffier. Produced by Lydia Dean Pilcher, Jon Kilik, Tim Robbins. Music by David Robbins. Production Design by Richard Hoover. Costume Design by Ruth Myers. Film Editing by Geraldine Peroni. Cannes Film Festival 1999.
Excellent ensemble comedy about the real life Red Scare events surrounding the birth and quick disappearance of the Federal Theatre Program in the 1930s, a program designed to bring the great plays of the theatrical stage to Depression-era audiences at affordable prices. The latest production staged by the group and written by a starving musician (Hank Azaria), ‘Cradle Will Rock’ is a downcast musical with subversive Red elements that gets Uncle Sam worried about whether or not the show should go on. Emily Watson plays a homeless lass who practically wanders into the lead role of the show, Angus Macfadyen is Orson Welles, the director of the play, and Cary Elwes is John Houseman, the play’s producer. Inspired scenes and a very polished look overcome the lack of momentum the film seems to be trying to drive at, and the brilliant performers (Vanessa Redgrave, Cherry Jones as the FTP’s leader) certainly make up for the badly miscast ones (MacFadyen, Susan Sarandon as Mussolini’s Italian-Jewish aide). Considering the amount of production director Tim Robbins takes on in doing this project, which is admittedly a bit more than he can handle, it is worthy of admiration.