The Cradle Will Rock
Directed by Tim Robins
Starring Bill Murray, Angus MacFadyen, Susan Sarandon, John Cusak
At the height of the Depression, a battle rages for the hearts and minds of American workers. Art and Labor fought this battle on the fertile fields of the Federal Theater Project, a well-meaning attempt to put actors and artists on the Federal payroll and keep Vaudeville alive. Fearlessly carrying art and socialism to 25 million Americans, its staff dated Negroes and hummed “The Internationale.” Besides
introducing children to “The Revolution of the Beavers,” it stages the astoundingly heavy handed, yet tuneless musical, “The Cradle Will
Rock.” This sodden biscuit, inspired by hallucinations of Berthold Brecht, proves the thesis that government should stay the heck out of the arts. Shut down on opening night for lack of funding and a pro union plot, a drunken Orson Wells (Angus MacFadyen) stages it anyway. A thicket of subplots involve Nelson Rockefeller (John Cusak) paying the rich commie Diego Riverea (Ruben Blades) to paint an unacceptable mural in the men’s room of their new skating rink, Susan Sarandon trading art for arms for Mussolini, and a fading ventriloquist (Murray) tries to teach the Reds to make people laugh. No wonder the 30’s were so grim.
Nearly 2 1/2 hours long, Cradle packs enough character, dialogue, and message to keep you interested the whole way. The 30’s were a desperate time, and you don’t have to be poor to be a whore. Actors sell their soul to a union, but when push comes to shove, that union holds the upper hand, just like the evil capitalists it purports to fight. Meanwhile, people still starve. Art is suppressed. Vaudeville dies. Life goes on. The message is muddy, but the acting is superb. Are the arts always right, and are those who hold the whip always wrong? Hard to say, but if you piss off enough people, you must be doing something right.