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Cradle Will Rock (1999) Online

Cradle Will Rock (1999) Online
Original Title :
Cradle Will Rock
Genre :
Movie / Drama
Year :
Directror :
Tim Robbins
Cast :
Hank Azaria,Rubén Blades,Joan Cusack
Writer :
Tim Robbins
Budget :
Type :
Time :
2h 12min
Rating :

A true story of politics and art in the 1930s U.S., focusing on a leftist musical drama and attempts to stop its production.

Cradle Will Rock (1999) Online

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.
Cast overview, first billed only:
Hank Azaria Hank Azaria - Marc Blitzstein
Rubén Blades Rubén Blades - Diego Rivera
Joan Cusack Joan Cusack - Hazel Huffman
John Cusack John Cusack - Nelson Rockefeller
Cary Elwes Cary Elwes - John Houseman
Philip Baker Hall Philip Baker Hall - Gray Mathers
Cherry Jones Cherry Jones - Hallie Flanagan
Angus Macfadyen Angus Macfadyen - Orson Welles
Bill Murray Bill Murray - Tommy Crickshaw
Vanessa Redgrave Vanessa Redgrave - Countess Constance La Grange
Susan Sarandon Susan Sarandon - Margherita Sarfatti
Jamey Sheridan Jamey Sheridan - John Adair
John Turturro John Turturro - Aldo Silvano
Emily Watson Emily Watson - Olive Stanton
Bob Balaban Bob Balaban - Harry Hopkins

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.

The planned 1984 version of this story, which had to be abandoned for financial reasons, would have been directed and written by Orson Welles himself. Rupert Everett would have played the young Welles, and Amy Irving his first wife, Virginia Nicholson. Welles's unmade screenplay was published after his death. Tim Robbins has always insisted that he has never read it.

Bertolt Brecht appears as a spirit-like figure. Technically, Brecht was still alive in 1936, the year the film is set in.

The film cast includes three Oscar winners: Tim Robbins, Vanessa Redgrave and Susan Sarandon; and five Oscar nominees: Bob Balaban, Joan Cusack, Bill Murray, Emily Watson and Paul Giamatti.

The part of the movie in which Congressman Joe Starnes asks Federal Theatre Project director Hallie Flanagan if Christopher Marlowe is a Communist and Flanagan responds that he was not--that he was "the greatest dramatist in the period immediately preceding Shakespeare," is repeated verbatim from the transcript of Flanagan's testimony in front of the house Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in December 1938.

Despite the fact that his then wife would have the female lead, Steven Spielberg was unwilling to provide financing to Orson Welles for this project. Spielberg also paid $55,000 for the " Rosebud " sled around this time.

Originally, an adaptation of 'The Cradle Will Rock' was supposed to be filmed in 1984. Amy Irving and Rupert Everett were already cast in their roles and was supposed to be filming in Rome when the production fell apart.

Tim Robbins considered playing Orson Welles. Rainn Wilson was also considered and auditioned.

When Orson Welles was going to direct in 1984, John Landis was to be his producer.

The three-toned art-deco console radio seen in an office sequence is a Midwest Radio Model B-16 from 1936.

Last film of Barnard Hughes.

Despite the fact that this was filmed in Super 35, "Filmed in Panavision" is listed in the end credits.

After Diego Rivera's "Man at the Crossroads" mural was destroyed in 1933 at the Rockefeller Center, the artist recreated it in 1934. Using black and white photos of his New York mural, Rivera painted a smaller mural in Mexico City's Palace of Fine Arts. He made some changes in this painting. He added more of the early leaders of communism - Leon Trotsky, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx. He called his new mural, "Man, Controller of the Universe."

Marc Blitzstein was a composer who wrote and adapted musical plays on and off Broadway. In 1958, he appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He said that he had been a member of the Communist Party but quit it in 1949. Nearly two-thirds of the American communists fled the party after Joseph Stalin's atrocities became known.

Marc Blitzstein married novelist Eva Goldbeck in 1933. They were very close and after she died of anorexia in 1936, Blitzstein was grief-stricken. That supposedly led to his frantic effort to create "The Cradle Will Rock."

"Mark the Music" is the title of a 1989 biography of Marc Blitzstein by Eric A. Gordon (St. Martin's Press, New York). Gordon says that the talented musician and composer was openly gay. After World War II, in which he served, Blitzstein lived for a time with a bisexual Army buddy. He was married for a short time to author Eva Goldbeck (1901-1936). In 1964, Blitzstein was murdered by three sailors he picked up in a bar in Martinique. He was 58 years old.

The New York Times on Jan. 24, 1964, ran a large article that said Marc Blitzstein, author of "The Cradle Will Rock," had been killed in a car accident in Martinique. On July 16, 1989, the same paper ran an article by Don Shewey that reviewed Eric Gordon's biography of Blitzstein ("Mark the Music," 1989, St. Martin's Press, NY). In that article, The New York Times said that Blitzstein was murdered in 1964 "by three sailors he picked up in a bar in Martinique."

The controversy over the Rockefeller Center mural came to a head on April 24, 1933. The New York World-Telegram that day ran an article that attacked Diego Rivera's painting. The newspaper said it was anti-capitalist propaganda. After that, Rivera added the portrait of Lenin to the mural. Upset by the bad publicity, Rockefeller in May asked Rivera to remove the picture of Lenin. Rivera refused, and Rockefeller paid him in full and fired him from completing the job. Workers then chiseled the nearly completed mural off the wall.

Director Tim Robbins co-wrote the song "Cobbler in Despair" and co-produced the song "Croon Spoon". "Croon Spoon" was sung by Susan Sarandon and Eddie Vedder from the rock group Pearl Jam.

Cary Elwes and Angus Macfadyen would later act in the "Saw" series, as Doctor Gordon in "Saw" and Jeff Reinhart in Saws "3" and "4" respectively.

User reviews



Although ultraconservatives will undoubtedly dismiss `The Cradle Will Rock' as blatant leftwing propaganda, the rest of us will see it as a fascinating rumination on the intricate relationship that has always existed between politics and art. Writer/director Tim Robbins, whose left-leaning sympathies are common knowledge in the film industry, has managed to create a screenplay of amazing complexity and depth, functioning on an enormous number of levels - political, historical, aesthetic, personal - without ever losing clarity and focus. He has set up a dizzying array of characters, yet each one is fleshed out with enough depth and particularity to make him or her a vital part of the overall tapestry.

Set in the turbulent 1930's, Robbins' tale focuses on the National Theatre Company, an organization set up by Roosevelt during the Depression to provide out-of-work artists a vehicle through which to ply their trade and culture-starved audiences a chance to revel in the glories of live theatrical performances. Unfortunately, it was also a time of great civil and political upheaval, with Communism and Fascism battling for supremacy abroad and many Americans divided along similar lines in their loyalties. With passions running deep, it was only a matter of time before many in the United States Congress began suspecting the NTC of Communist sympathizing - and it was a short road from there to the eventual dismemberment of the organization. The film centers on the production of a controversial musical play called `The Cradle Will Rock' that portrays the glorious coming of unionism to a steel factory, a scenario that parallels the events in the lives of several of the characters in the film.

Given this fascinating historical background, Robbins has filled his film with a rich assortment of characters, from Orson Welles, as a fledgling young actor who sees unions as the ruination of artistic purity, to Nelson Rockefeller, as a well-meaning art patron who balks at the mural Diego Rivera has painted for him only after Rivera refuses to remove the image of Lenin from Rockefeller's monument-to-capitalism lobby. In fact, the cast of characters is so enormous, with each one taking a crucial part in the narrative proceedings, that it is quite impossible to mention them all here. Suffice it to say that Robbins covers the social spectrum from industrialists and capitalists to union workers and the unemployed, from sympathetic patrons and patronesses to the little people eager to root out the seeds of Communism even at the expense of their own ostracism. And not a one is uninteresting.

Robbins has assembled an all-star cast that reads like a who's who of contemporary movie acting (albeit of a non-blockbuster variety). Although at the beginning of the film, the casting of such familiar faces seems a bit disconcerting - leading to what critic Judith Crist refers to as the `hey there' syndrome, i.e. destroying the verisimilitude of a work by parading too many recognizable people before the camera - this technique actually helps the audience to differentiate the many characters who might otherwise pass by in a confusing and disorienting blur. Hank Azaria, Ruben Blades, John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Cary Elwes, Bill Murray, Vanessa Redgrave, Susan Sarandon, John Turturro and Emily Watson comprise this truly fine cast.

Liberal as his leanings might be, Robbins is able to focus on the bitter ironies that abound on both sides of the political spectrum. For instance, while Susan Sarandon portrays a Jewish ally of Mussolini, abandoning her pro-worker principles to act as his capitalist representative in the States, Ruben Blades plays a Diego Rivera who has subordinated - if only temporarily - his own revolutionary ethos to the power of the almighty buck. Also, there is a certain paradox to the fact that, when the government has decreed the theater closed and thereby forbidden the premiere performance of the play, it is the actors' UNION that threatens the performers with firing if they carry out their plan to stage it furtively. Robbins is even somewhat evenhanded in his treatment of the `enemy' - the rich capitalists and the anti-communist members of the theatre organization - portraying them with good-natured humor and pathos. Joan Cusack, as a clerk at the employment office and Bill Murray, as a vaudeville ventriloquist, seem like decent people, only hopelessly misguided and lonely. (Unfortunately, Murray's sudden change of heart at the end seems inexplicable and unmotivated). As for the elite in the story, Robbins does a lovely job of spoofery at the end of the film; as the play is finally being performed at a nearby theatre - representing the triumph both on stage and in the world at large of the common man over the oppressive tyrants of industry - the tycoons, dressed in masquerade ball costumes of the 18th Century aristocracy and Catholic hierarchy, mull over their plans to retain control of the art world by bankrolling only those paintings depicting the scenes of utmost blandness and banality. Thus, these men of corporate power are portrayed more as amusingly quaint pests than malevolent or malicious despots.

There is certainly no denying that `The Cradle Will Rock' is, at heart, a bit of a leftwing diatribe. However, it is not a cruel or unreasonable one. And Tim Robbins' extraordinary skills as both a storyteller and filmmaker make this clearly one of the most interesting and impressive films of 1999.


This may suffer from having a few too many plot lines and characters (Emily Watson, for example, is a role too far), but most of what's there is excellent. Bill Murray is as good as he has been recently in Rushmore and Lost in Translation, and the Cusacks are at their best. This is a film that lingers with you after you've seen it, and gives a fascinating insight into a turbulent time.


Tim Robbins is a good actor. Not great, but it is clear in his acting that he has a passion for the theater. Now he has written and directed something that elevates him to world class.

The simple first: Tim has learned from Altman how to make a camera move in such a way that the viewer becomes part of the action. Some of his long, multithreaded action shots are breathtaking. More, this is used to tie together dual threads and multiple stories. Altman again, but even Altman is inconsistent in this.

But Tim can do something Altman cannot. He tunes this ensemble so tightly it seems that they are siblings. Many individual performances deeply charm, reach high.

That alone makes this a must see. But there's more. This is yet another play about a play, a common enough genre that has a very specific set of pitfalls. Robbins the writer cleverly avoids this with a facile trick. Uncareful viewers will see this as a simple, left-leaning story about artistic McCarthyism (Jesse Helms anyone?). But that is a ruse. The story is just the excuse.

Watch it again and look for why the play couldn't be put on. It was the unions, as much coopted by the system as Rockefeller that was the real threat and who the players defy at the end. This ahistorical fact was inserted for a reason.

Also watch for how the whole thing is nested in Faust, with a deeper recursive level with the players as the puppets in Faust. The puppet thing is worked a few other ways with Murray of course, but also so many others until we feel that the only non-puppets are the actors.

I think this is one of those cases where Robbins exceeded his own intellect, but it still works as a deeply recursive self examination, even of itself, because he trusted his instincts as dramatist (and presumably the actors' instincts as well).

I rate this high for intelligence. It achieves what Altman has not. Some seem to object that some of the characters are silly: Wells and Houseman and the Countess. But this is deliberate. They are playing players IN A PLAY. That's the point. Perhaps it would have been better to not use historical names since it confuses people who might look for accuracy.

Some misgivings though. Sarandon's performance was the weakest. Cinematically, the crushing of the mural during the performance was blunt editing. The pacing was off -- it should have been better integrated with the pacing of the play's action. The transposition of the dummy to modern Broadway was radically less subtle than the dummy theme's life in the rest of the play. If you didn't tease it out early, you'd be confused.
mym Ђудęm ęгσ НuK

mym Ђудęm ęгσ НuK

Cradle Will Rock has everything I like in a movie - great characters, humor, suspense, depth, and music. The many subplots are woven together in perfect balance, leaving you wanting more of everything at the end, even though the film is over two hours.

The acting is excellent all around, especially Cherry Jones' portrayal of Hallie Flanagan, the head of the Federal Theater. Ruben Blades and Angus MacFadyen give us Diego Rivera and Orson Welles, respectively, and do not disappoint. It's rare to see so many charismatic, likeable people in a movie with a real story. There is no one star of the film - everyone is sharing the spotlight equally. Tim Robbins has really done a magnificent job of putting all the pieces in the right places.

And perhaps best of all, this is a film with real controversy - one that will get you thinking about art and politics and unions and the influence of money on everything. Cradle Will Rock is such an ambitious piece of work, it could have failed in so many different ways, and yet it succeeds on every level. Check it out.


Tim Robbins creates a brilliant social commentary in the same in-your-face style as "Bob Roberts". I adore the statements Robbins makes about social politics, as well as the problems with the idea of "art for art's sake". He lyrically tells the story of the struggle of performing and visual artists around the Depression era, choosing between their art and their livelihood--a struggle that is universal for artists through the expanse of time. The concept of this film is a breakthrough for the big screen, since Hollywood seems to be the capital of "selling out". The comments on artistic integrity are strong and literally moving in the acting of an amazing cast, as well as the way in which the story is edited to David Robbins' beautiful score. The entire film is simply poetic. This film is truly a masterpiece to any artist, or to anyone who knows what it like to compromise your values to survive.


This is a classically written piece about the corruptability and compromises of politicians, businessmen and yes even artists. Tim Robbins is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. I'll admit I had a hard time trying not to misinterpret the dialog, but at least the movie made me think. I also commend Robbins for tackling the hypocrisy involved in being an artist. It's slow, but give it a chance. By the end of this movie the levels and themes he's hitting on tie together very, very well.


Tim Robbins has created a masterpiece. A film that stands up in the face of adversity and squashed freedom.Robbin's telling of the legendary events surrounding the Orson Welles production of Marc Blitztien's Labor Opers, THE CRADLE WILL ROCK, not only puts forth the events but he masterfully presents his film in the style of a Brecht theatre piece. The emotional level in the theatre when I saw this film was high,Applause rang out during the films climax. But this film is not only about artistic freedom, it is about freedom as a whole,about standing up for your freedom of belief and expression,could you imagine that there was actually a time in this "free" nation of ours when armed guards actually locked the doors of a theatre ,trying to prevent a show from being mounted.This film is an important one,and what Robbins accomplishes is to present it as entertainment as well,this is not a history lesson but a well executed work of art. As perfomances go everyone was splendid. Hank Azaria wins best honors as Blitztien,Cary Elwes and Angus McFadden as Houseman and Welles are also brilliant in their stellar portrayals.Vanessa Redgrave,Susan Sarandon and Bill Murray also lend their imense talents. John Turrturo deserves special mention for his touching portrait of actor Howard DaSilva. Some critics have pointed out what they felt was a lack of character development in the film. These critics have greatly missed the point. the film is presented as a Brecht (or Blitztein ) style play. Blitztein's CRADLE included characters named for their role in society,or personality, Jimmy Forman,Mister Mister,Reverend Salvation etc. it is this type of acting Robbins successfully evokes from his actors. This film is more than a movie,it is an emotional experience that will change the way you look at society.It is an inspiration,telling us to fight for what you believe in.


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.
Brick my own

Brick my own

This is definately Tim Robbins best (directed) film yet. He brings a number of characters together to tell the story of the 1930's. In particular, Orson Wells and his broadway production that caused a controversy and some other things. Though it take liberties in history (that sounds weird), it comes out in the end as good entertainment from an exceptional actor/writer/director/producer. All star cast includes John and Joan Cusack, Ruben Blades, Hank Azaria, Tim Robbins (uncredited), Emily Watson, Susan Sarandon, Paul Giamatti, Angus MacFaden as Orson Wells (in a breakthrough performance) and Bill Murray in a wonderful role as a puppeteer. A+


Tim and Susan have been on the forefront of our political and artistic landscape for many years, regardless of the personal or artistic costs. They are Hollywood players, and as such, I do not always stand and cheer when I see one of their films. It's taken some time for me to recognize their excellent aspirations. Not to say I haven't embraced their intentions in a general way. With this film, "Cradle Will Rock," however, I embrace them unconditionally.

I have deep theatrical roots, and was simply enchanted by the frame of this story inside Roosevelt's WPA theatre project of the early '30s. As deeply embedded in the theatre as I am, I had no idea, I blush to admit, that I owed so much to the extraordinary legacy of the artists and managers from that era. So, for this alone, I am grateful to the filmmakers.

Within my personal history in the theatre, I have long struggled with the zeal in needing to produce "theatre in defense of civil and human liberties," and reconciling that with the ongoing pressures of making a buck. Not that I insist all artistic need be "liberty" oriented. But I am uneasy in choosing a work to produce or to witness, if I cannot find a pillar of social justice within it. The earth is far too fragile, and the threats to her and her inhabitants are far too imminent, to waste time otherwise.

Back to the film: Not only was I unaware of the WPA theatre project, I was unaware there was a McCarthy-Era-like-witch hunt to dismember the artists and producers and administrators. I kept thinking as I watched the Senate interrogations, "Is that Senator McCarthy? That can't be--that doesn't happen for 30 years!" The parallel is unmistakable (uncanny), and one can't help but ponder its legacy: The McCarthy Era; Senator Jesse Helms' vicious, relentless attacks on public funded arts, media and humanities; the Bush Doctrine, and so on. And as I watched, there was this small voice telling me what we all know: "Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it." I was shocked to learn that this hideous bureaucracy has been using every weapon at hand to demolish the arts in the US for at least 80 years. For this revelation alone, I honor these filmmakers.

The history and political science are presented excellently here, and might be subjects for good documentaries. Believe it or not, I do like entertainment, and it's likely I would've missed the lessons had they been presented as documentaries. Instead, Tim has written one of the most compelling screenplays with very diverse human stories interwoven in what must've been a pitch to studio execs that was unwieldy and impossible to track. Not so in the execution. I write screenplays, and I am many times undone by the weight of my convictions. Not so with "Cradle." The writing here is superb.

To climax with a performance of the musical "Cradle Will Rock" booked in a vaudeville house in a last ditch effort after the Feds close down the original venue is divinely inspired. The "show-must-go-on" mentality produced with a pianist and piano on an empty stage, before a standing room only crowd of recently fired performers and technicians, their families, friends, and supporters is just bloody brilliant. When the performers stand up in the house to join the performance--Equity Union rules they cannot step on stage--when these performers step into their roles, rising up from the audience itself, and in spite of very real threats of being black balled--the effect is sublime. It's as though the observers become the observed--that alchemical magic every sincere performer strives to achieve. To accomplish this on film is rare. Sure, you often identify with a character in a film, but you often do it in a kind of hypnotic escapist state. This film achieves something more particular, more active in the way of audience/performer union.

"Cradle Will Rock" is one of the best film arts arguments for democracy. It is a gift to all of us. Let us honor and treasure the filmmakers.


While it was fun seeing "Cradle Will Rock" with my mother-in-law who had some memories of the time period, I also did a huge paper on the WPA Arts Projects in graduate school (I recommend Jerry Mangione's book on the Federal Writer's Project as a good introduction) and am quite familiar with the personalities and facts involved so was curious to see it as a docudrama.

But we plus my parents felt the film was too agit-prop and the 20% of it that's over-the-top (aw come on, Hearst -- "Citizen Kane" foreshadowing, Rockefeller and a steel magnate at a Versailles costume party at the climax?) weakens the historical telling of a confluence of happenings -- the strangulation of the Federal Theater Project as a precursor victim to McCarthyism through the Dies Committee (including actual testimony wherein Christopher Marlowe was accused of being a Commie, as were the classic Greek dramatists) and Nelson Rockefeller's benighted sponsorship and then destruction of the Diego Rivera murals at Rockefeller Center.

Effectively written and directed by Tim Robbins is how passionately political the artists were, not as "card carrying Communists" per se, but as committed anti-Fascists and unionists in every aspect of their personal lives--as equally committed as they were to the magic of the theater as a communication device.

It does go over the top (including Susan Sarandon as an elegant Jewish courier to Mussolini selling stolen Old Masters), it is effective to show how TPTB were sympathetic to and profited from alliances with the fascists and how much they hated That Cripple in the White House.

Amidst the politics, the art for art's sake oversize egos of John Houseman and Orson Welles are also well portrayed, if a shade as buffoons compared to the grimness of everyone else around them, most of whom needed these WPA jobs to keep from starving (there's a toss away line that barely explains that FDR had to throw the Theater Project to the wolves in order to save his whole alphabet soup of programs for the vast majority).

It's also a bit over the top in painting those who testified at the Committee as probably crazy, but who knows. The Vanessa Redgrave character is silly but I guess it's making a point that Radical Chic is not new.

The climax of the factual occurrence, the one and only original performance of Marc Blitzstein's "ThreePenny Opera"-inspired political musical "Cradle Will Rock" is a delightful recreation, and from what I've read, true to the real story. This is definitely a very un-1990's story.

(Additional recommended background reading: "Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century" by Michael Denning (Verso, 1998, 556 pages)

(originally written 1/2/2000)


This is a romantic look at 1930's liberalism, with a ham-handed script that pits the evil fascists against the enlightened intellectuals.

It tries to be a little of everything, and doesn't quite pull it off. It alternates from a comedy, to poignant vignettes of depression era poverty, to a musical, to farce, to political drama. I just felt Robbins couldn't make up his mind as what this film was supposed to be. I am guessing that most of it wound up on the cutting room floor, and maybe a longer film would have allowed some of these themes to develop more completely.

It has one of the largest casts I've ever seen. It seems everyone in Hollywood wanted to get in on this one.

The biggest problem I had with the film was that if you weren't one of the warmly-portrayed socialists, then you were either a simple minded right wing alarmist, or a big businessman in bed with the fascists.

One thing is clear - Robbins and Sarandon yearn for the days when being part of the far, far left was fashionable.


I walk out of a movie approximately once every 15 years. Today I was glad to make that decision 50 minutes into this monumentally boring, unemotional, simplistic, self-indulgent, self-deluded diatribe. I am really sorry that I missed watching "Mildred Pierce" on TCM for the 80th time to go see this, though.

I am a liberal and, as such, always enjoy a good story about the plight of the oppressed. What I hate with a passion is when a film resorts to Eisenstein-era stereotypes like "the good homeless person" and "the bad cop" and "the free-thinking artist" and "the bad tycoon" and... you get the picture, to make its point.

You can tell this movie has the potential to be a complete bomb in the first 10 minutes, when the camera self-importantly tracks one character uninterruptedly a la Orson Welles and the rest throw away unintelligible expositional dialogue to let us know whether they are good (i.e., poor) or bad (i.e., rich). Welles, like Hitchcock and many others in this age of Steadicams, did the uncut tracking shot masterfully, suspensefully, infusing almost every frame with some kind of significance and moving the story forward at the same time. Tim Robbins' shot is empty. Oh, sure, you could make something out of it if you wanted but, ultimately, the shot is just there to say, "Neat, hah?" It doesn't mean a thing.

Neither does much of what follows, and I'm glad I didn't stay to find out if anything would. It's like, going into it, the makers figured they were going to make the kind of film that people made in the sixties where it was accepted who the good and the bad guys were, so you just needed to get to the payoff scene where a) the workers are massacred or b) the workers rise together and triumph. So Robbins plunges forth without taking any time to connect us with his characters or with the complexities beneath their surface, to make us participate in what makes them tick. They are just assigned a function, and off they go into the plot.

Susan Sarandon and Vanessa Redgrave as a fascist and a decadent aristocrat respectively are ridiculous pieces of obvious casting against type. But since the whole film is so firmly planted in stereotypes, when it tries to go against them, as with the casting of these two characters, it is transparent and self-evident.

If you miss movies like "Sacco e Vanzetti" or "They Don't Wear Black Tie," you'll probably eat this up. I can't imagine why anyone without a leftist leaning would care at all about the story, much less enjoy the way it's told.


This film is another example of Tim Robbins pushing his version of reality on the movie going audience. He paints the 1930's as an era where the rich and powerful attempt to squash the downtrodden.

Orson Welles was a giant not only in his film work but also on the stage. Robbins effectively reduces Welles to an alcoholic homophobic buffoon with zero tolerance for an actor's personal needs.

I never heard of this film until reading about it on an Orson Welles web site. The audience apparently stayed away in droves. It is not surprising to learn that the film recaptured less than ten percent of its budget at the box office. The film's commercial failure it seems has ended Robbins career as a writer/director.

The film contains dozen of characters and numerous plot lines none of which generate any degree of sympathy for the audience to create an engaging story. Robbins' homage (or plagiarism) of Robert Altman's ensemble format fails badly as he tries to push his spin on historical fact. At least he posts a disclaimer, during the opening credits, that the film is mostly true. His message seems to be that those on the left are oppressed holders of the truth while those on the right are corrupt censors of artistic freedom.

Another weak spot of the film is that the musical play itself is of dubious quality in both words and music. Robbins, to his credit, shows very little of the play's weak content.

The cinematography in the film is very good as is the production design. But if Robbins ever gets the chance to write another film he should study up on screenplay structure and read Lajos Egri on character development.


An all-star production, CRADLE WILL ROCK chronicles the events leading up to the debut of Mark Blitzstein's "The Cradle Will Rock," a labor-oriented drama with music, written in the turbulent 1930s. It is to be performed at the WPA Federal Theater, but the government gets cold feet at the last minute and closes the theater. So the players take their production to a private theater and perform before an SRO crowd. Oddly enough, the performance turns out to be the least interesting part of the film, done up in a "Let's fix up the old barn and put on a show" routine seen in countless Andy Hardy and Little Rascals films. It is what happens before that is fascinating, as we shift back and forth between New York and Washington and are exposed to the "isms" of this post Depression/pre-WWII time: communism and fascism. One supposes most of what writer/director Tim Robbins portrays here is real enough, but keep in mind Robbins is an avowed leftist and so the film is probably best taken with a large dose of salt. But what a cast: John and Joan Cusack, Susan (Mrs. Tim Robbins) Sarandon, Cary Elwes, John Turturro, Jack Black, Bill Murray, Vanessa Redgrave, Ruben Blades and Hank Azaria. All play real-life figures of the era, including Orson Welles and John Rockefeller. A must-see for art-house film lovers and those interested in the period. All others, beware.


This movie proved to be a bit ahead of its time, as several films have recently come out that follow a similar structure--that of many important characters, but no main character (Magnolia and Traffic). The film is fact-based, but admittedly takes liberties. The main arc of the film is the story of Orson Welles' production of the play of the same name.

The cast is excellent: Hank Azaria, John Turturro, Bill murray, Joan and John Cusack, the guys from tenacious D, etc. all give brilliant performances. The stroy's characters are mostly upper-class snobs and down and out actors looking for theater work during the depression. This film also hints at the future of film, as Orson Welles and William Randolph Hearst are characters in the film, moving in similar circles, seemingly on a collision course that happens later when Welles depicts Hearst in Citizen Kane. Robbins wrote and directed the film, and he should be applauded for meticulously weaving in so many interesting characters and powerful themes into a film. This is unheard of for this media, and many good writers would be hard pressed to communicate this much text in a 500 page novel. This film has been overlooked.


too many historical inaccuracies. the movie is set in 1937

1. fascism wasn't anti-semitic until the mid thirties, and the first racial laws were passed in 1938 on account of the pressing ideological pull of the dominant ally, Nazi Germany. Hitler needed the Italians to get on par with the racial discrimination, otherwise he couldn't justify to the Aryan German people being allied with an inferior people, and all the propaganda efforts put into making the Germans feel as a unite comradeship against their many inferior enemies would promptly fail its purpose. Mussolini obediently submitted to his requests and promulgated the race manifesto, despite counting many Jews among his friends and acquaintances himself, like his ex lover the writer Margherita Sarfatti

2. Margherita Sarfatti was a strong supporter of Mussolini, but that changed when the racial laws were passed. She soon left the fascist party and went to Argentina. So if she ever went to the USA to promote Mussolini, this was surely before the regime turned anti-semitic.

3. Italy and Germany did not attack Spain. They aided and military and politically supported the nationalist rebels leaded by Franco, who tried a coup during the civil war to restore a conservative regime which had been subverted by the late socialist government and numerous anarchist riots. IE Spain was already a mess. Many Italian Marxists, communists and socialists also went and fought in Spain alongside the republican forces - which were aided by the URSS - against the falangistas and the fascist regular troops.

4. Rivera painted that mural in 1933, so all dates and facts happening in the movie mismatch.

5. In my understanding there was wide sympathy and support for Italian fascism in the American parlors, which isn't as apparent watching the movie. They favored fascism in juxtaposition to communism, as the latter was founded on class conflict, and the first on induced/enforced social peace and corporatism - which was already part of the American culture and economy, although in a more liberal form (and it still is). The fascist ideology found ground in the frightened middle and upper classes in all of the world, as the unions were getting stronger and the rich were scared of a Marxist revolution.
black coffe

black coffe

"Cradle Will Rock" is not a very exciting title for a film, and my eye would most certainly have slid past its listing in the TV guide if it were not for the one-sentence plot synopsis below: "Orson Welles attempts to stage a controversial play in Depression-era America." My attention was immediately captured, and even more so during the very impressive one-take opening shot, which also boasts a lengthy line-up of casting credits that features everybody from Hank Azaria to Emily Watson, with no less than two Cusacks to seal the deal – if there's one thing to be said about actors-turned-directors, it's that they can certainly bring in the big names. 'Cradle Will Rock (1999)' was Tim Robbins' third directorial effort, and he courageously tackles a wide assortment of political and social issues from 1930s America, as well as providing a commentary on the importance of art and culture as a means of expressing one's personal beliefs. It is only fitting that a film about the role of art be directed by a man who is obviously very passionate about his craft, and Robbins has produced a mature and intelligent comedy/drama.

The film, based on the true story of Marc Blitzstein's 1937 musical "The Cradle Will Rock," was originally planned as Orson Welles' final project, and pre-production commenced in 1983. However, not unusually for the great director, financial support was withdrawn shortly afterwards, and Welles passed away in 1985. Marc Blitzstein (Hank Azaria), a delusional playwright, pens a leftist labour musical based on his experiences with poverty-stricken households and the emerging union powers. Hallie Flanagan (Cherry Jones) of the Federal Theatre Project recognises the dramatic brilliance of the play and agrees to finance it, much to the consternation of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which is attempting to wheedle out anything that might possibly be construed as Communism. The dramatic prodigy Orson Welles (Angus Macfadyen) is hired to direct the play, and he impulsively decides to cast a homeless stagehand (Emily Watson) in the lead role, even though she can't sing. Meanwhile, Nelson Rockefeller (John Cusack) commissions artist Diego Rivera (Ruben Blades) to paint a mural in his lobby, but is dismayed at the final result.

Though Orson Welles merely plays a supporting role in the proceedings, he is played with delicious verve by relative unknown Angus Macfadyen. His portrayal is completely overplayed, presenting the director and performer as a flamboyant caricature, probably the only approach if one is to capture a personality as outrageous as that of Orson Welles. Though the film itself lacks some narrative focus in that it attempts to cover too many themes and characters, all the loose-ends satisfactorily come together for the climax, the incredibly-energetic opening performance of "The Cradle Will Rock." I was once again reminded of the considerable talents of John Turturro, who brilliantly and convincingly evolves from the shy, humble Italian family man off-stage to his character of the strong, assertive union leader. Robbins also intercuts the play performance with the heartless desecration of Diego Rivera's politically-charged artwork mural, ironically contrasting the presentation of great art with its inevitable destruction by those who could never appreciate its importance to human culture.
Wooden Purple Romeo

Wooden Purple Romeo

I was fortunate enough to attend a special screening of "Cradle Will Rock" with producer/assistant director Allan F. Nicholls, a man of remarkable resume (he worked with Robert Altman several times and therefore, knows what makes a great ensemble drama). Tim Robbins' ode to theater, the passion for arts (acting, in particular), freedom of speech and the price you have to pay for believing and living for it (art vs. politics), is an underrated mosaic of some very exquisite personalities (Orson Welles, Nelson Rockefeller, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, John Houseman, Hazel Huffman, among others) that are, one way or another, involved with a musical play that's about to be closed down for being "communist", in 1936's New York. Nicholls (who has a cameo as George Zorn) said that most of the actors worked almost for free, out of friendship for Robbins and love for theater, and that "Cradle Will Rock"'s poor reception at the box-office/critics, is the main reason why Robbins hasn't directed another movie since then. That's a shame, since this is even better than his previous directorial efforts ("Bob Roberts" and "Dead Man Walking"), which were much easier films. It's true you have to know at least a little bit about the people portrayed here in order to fully appreciate/understand the film, and movies like this don't usually become blockbusters, but the fact that "Cradle Will Rock" was ignored altogether and seems quite forgotten is really sad. The ensemble cast is one of the best I've ever seen - Emily Watson, Bill Murray, Vanessa Redgrave, Joan Cusack, Cherry Jones, John Turturro, Susan Sarandon, John Cusack, Cary Elwes, Angus Macfadyen, Paul Giamatti, Bob Balaban, Hank Azaria, Jack Black, Philip Baker Hall, among others - and the screenplay is Altmanesque tapestry at its best. Hopefully, this film will be discovered in a not so distant future, and get the acclaim it deserves. 10/10.


This film reminds you of how class, politics, war and censorship influences culture in a very well made and inspiring way. Orson Welles says that if you leave the theater without passion and the will to fight and challenge society and instead discuss the play's connotations over a cup of coffee theater has failed. Good point! Despite a very famous cast and a fascinating and relevant story it got a very limited release. Perhaps it is symptomatic of the topic of the film, cultural censorship, and the R-rating - please! Jim Murray is great as the miserable and contradictory puppeteer and the debate between Diego Rivera and Nelson Rockefeller over Lenin is not to be missed. As the previous viewer said, stick it out - it is worth it!


I do not know where the problem in this movies lies. There must have been something in the script to get people like John & Joan Cusack, Reuben Blades, Bob Balaban and the rest involved in the project like this. However, from watching the final project I have no idea what it was.

The movie was poorly written. The characters were buffoonish stereotypes. The plot was a hodge-podge of storylines that lacked Robert Atlman's unifying touches. The direction was over the top. Was Tim Robbins trying to distract the audience from the weaknesses in the film?

In short, I would not recommend this movie to anyone. I can not believe I wasted money renting this.

I expected so much more. The subject matter and the historical characters deserve much better treatment.


Saw "Cradle" at a Writers Guild screening in New York (Nov, 1999) which offered post-screening interview with creator Tim Robbins. Mr. Robbins, an intelligent, if not truly intellectual, handsome, engaging, unpretentious artist, was so much more entertaining and absorbing in the few moments he spoke with the audience than was the case with almost all of his over-long two hours-long-plus movie.

The movie informs, but it neither enlightens nor entertains. The remarkable cast does its best to keep up with Robbins' vision of a modern-day version 1940s screwball-comedy farce, but this devotion to a cinematic form, and a comparable commitment to historical accuracy and costuming, only distracts Robbins from any artist's true goal: engaging story and characters. There is none of this in "Cradle." It is pure pastiche, mere montage, with too all the time and $30 million spent on atmosphere, not flesh-and-blood authenticity.

Robbins admitted that a writer friend of his read the script and told him it didn't work and advised him not to undertake the movie. But he did, and now believes what Joe Roth, Disney's studio chief, probably apparently told him: that the studio "loves" the movie. (Though certainly no one in marketing or publicity or sales or 'profit' can love it!)

Well, Joe Roth is a decent man raised as the loving child of dedicated left-wingers. I admire him for that, as I admire his loyalty to Robbins' intensity and intentions, but "Cradle" is a a hopelessly flawed, irrelevant boring movie experience.


This pompous and painfully self-congratulatory movie is not so much the story of a 1930's theater production but a gathering of Hollywood left-wingers intent on praising each other for their Political Correctness. It is offensive.

"Cradle Will Rock" was a 1930's play put on by hardcore Leftists and outright Communists and was a pro-Labor anti-business load of sanctimonious "AgitProp" - agitation propaganda. And it would have been most suitable in Stalin's Russia or the China of the Red Guards in the 1960's. Being publicly financed in the FDR administration it was to be closed down, but according to the Leftist Mythology they "heroically fought the good fight" and put the play on at another theater.

So now we have the far-Leftists of 1990's Hollywood presenting a tedious and bloated salute and paean to New York theater Leftists and Communists of the 1930's. If you are of similar extreme political bent go watch it and slap yourself on the back. Everyone else, STAY AWAY and avoid the boredom of this pretentious and self-important movie!


What is it with films like this & The Moderns? Are they bad homages or assassinations masquerading as tributes? We seem to live in an age with a massive oedipal artistic complex. Hemingway & Stein reduced to simpering pedantic fools in The Moderns & here Welles & Rivera & Rockefeller reduced to late Saturday Nite Live skits. There's some kind of ideology at work here. Ideology of trivialization. Here's rooting for the next generation to rise & overthrow the Robbins/Sarandon mindless retro-liberal nexus.


It's almost impossible to believe that the director behind "Bob Roberts" and "Dead Man Walking" could give us this overstuffed atrocity.

Apparently shooting for an Altman feel, writer/director Robbins juggles various subplots and many, many characters in telling his story of left vs. right, artist vs. plutocrat in 1930's New York. Now, I'm a left-winger myself, but this is the kind of smug and self-satisfied movie that clues you in as to why it's so easy to pick on liberals these days.

There's a great deal of heavy-handedness in this movie, so I'll just mention one example -- while the Mercury Theatre is locked out of their performance hall and Nelson Rockefeller's goons are destroying Diego Rivera's mural (this is history, folks, not a spoiler), we see Rockefeller, W.R. Hearst and other bigwigs at a costume ball, dressed as -- you guessed it -- pre-Revolutionary French aristocrats. (That shuffling you heard behind the screen is Robbins with a sandwich board that reads, "Get it? Get it?")

With the exception of Joan Cusack, Bill Murray and Cherry Jones, the performances are either negligible or downright awful. I can only hope that Susan Sarandon's laughable daughter-of-Dracula turn as a Mussolini cohort will be the worst performance she ever gives. (Poor Vanessa Redgrave carries on like she's doing "My Man Godfrey" in summer stock.)

If you want to relive the last era of American anti-capitalism, rent "Salt of the Earth" and "Force of Evil" and give this well-meaning mishmash a pass.