[Screen It]


(1999) (Hank Azaria, John Cusack) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Moderate None Moderate None Minor
Minor None None None Heavy
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
Heavy Mild Mild Moderate Mild

Drama: A disparate group of people tries to circumvent the government from shutting down their play that's being staged with government funds.
It's 1936 and the U.S. Government has created the Works Progress Administration, a program designed to find jobs for those put out of work due to the Great Depression. One of the pieces of the W.P.A. is the Federal Theater Project, run by Hallie Flanagan (CHERRY JONES). Not only must she keep the day to day operation in business, but she must also contend with members of Congress who are questioning the program's alleged communist content, as well as Hazel Huffman (JOAN CUSACK), one of her own clerks who has similar misgivings about the involved politics.

One of Hazel's allies is Tommy Crickshaw (BILL MURRAY), an aging and boozing ventriloquist who's been assigned the task of teaching vaudeville to two less than talented newcomers, Sid (JACK BLACK) and Larry (KYLE GASS). Although he similarly bemoans the spread of communism, he's more interested in Hazel than in the Reds.

Another project is "The Cradle Will Rock," written by tortured composer Marc Blitzstein (HANK AZARIA) and directed by Orson Welles (ANGUS MACFADEN). While the famed actor and director enjoys bickering with his producer, John Houseman (CARY ELWES), he encounters labor problems with his union actors, headed by John Adair (JAMEY SHERIDAN), as well as his inexperienced leading lady, Olive Stanton (EMILY WATSON), who just days early was sleeping in a movie house and singing for food. Meanwhile, bit actor Aldo Silvano (JOHN TURTURRO) is simply trying to keep food on the table for his growing family.

One of the unconditional supporters of the theater project is the somewhat flamboyant Countess La Grange (VANESSA REDGRAVE), who's married to industrialist Gray Mathers (PHILIP BAKER HALL). While he has to contend with her whimsical ways as well as possible union strikes, he seems more interested in Margherita Sarfatti (SUSAN SARANDON), an Italian art broker and fascist sympathizer.

A former mistress to Mussolini, she raises funds for the fascists through her art dealings. As such, she knows famed Mexican artist, Diego Rivera (RUBEN BLADES), who's been commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller (JOHN CUSACK), also one of her clients, to paint a massive mural in Rockefeller center.

As those two men clash over what constitutes art, Hallie, Welles and the others must contend with Congress attempting to shut down production of "The Cradle Will Rock" due to its pro-union and therefore presumably pro-Communist underpinnings.

Unless they're fans of someone in the cast or of director Tim Robbins ("Dead Man Walking"), it's not very likely that this period piece will be of much interest to most kids.
For some language and sexuality.
  • HANK AZARIA plays the young and artistically tortured playwright and composer whose left-wing, pro-union play causes quite a stir.
  • JOHN CUSACK plays the wealthy Nelson Rockefeller who clashes with Rivera about his art when not briefly frolicking with his scantly clad models.
  • SUSAN SARANDON plays an Italian art broker and fascist sympathizer who raises funds for the fascists through her art dealings
  • RUBEN BLADES plays the famed Mexican artist Diego Rivera who clashes with Rockefeller over the mural he's painted for Rockefeller center.
  • JOAN CUSACK plays a clerk at the FTP who decides to take action against left-wing politics entering into the theatrical works.
  • BILL MURRAY plays an aging and boozing ventriloquist who's been assigned the task of teaching vaudeville to two less than talented newcomers while also condemning alleged communist influences in the arts.
  • CHERRY JONES plays the woman in charge of the Federal Theater Project who must contend with all sorts of problems in doing so, including an accusatory member of Congress with whom she must spar during a hearing.
  • ANGUS MACFADEN plays the famed actor and director who mounts Blitzstein's play and does what he can to make sure it gets staged. He occasionally uses strong profanity.
  • CARY ELWES plays the presumably gay producer, John Houseman, who helps Welles in getting the play staged and briefly uses strong profanity.
  • EMILY WATSON plays an aspiring actress who lands the lead part in the play and subsequently moves in with John (presumably becoming his lover).
  • JOHN TURTURRO plays a working-class actor who's simply trying to keep food on the table for his growing family.
  • VANESSA REDGRAVE plays a flamboyant, middle-aged woman who enjoys getting involved in the "conspiracy" of the play.
  • JAMEY SHERIDAN plays a union foreman in the acting guild.


    Curious if this title is entertaining, any good, and/or has any artistic merit?
    Then read OUR TAKE of this film.

    (Note: The "Our Take" review of this title examines the film's artistic merits and does not take into account any of the possibly objectionable material listed below).

    The following is a brief summary of the content found in this R-rated, period drama. Profanity is rated as heavy due to at least 8 uses of the "f" word, while other profanities and a handful of colorful phrases are also present.

    Female nudity (bare breasts, brief full frontal) occurs in several scenes, while a bit of sexually related material (some briefly seen, other activity is suggested) and dialogue is also present. Depending on one's view of the artistic freedom vs. censorship, some bad attitudes are present.

    Beyond that, as well as some smoking, a moderate amount of drinking (including one character being drunk), limited violence and some brief tense family moments, the rest of the film's categories are relatively void of any major objectionable content. As always, however, should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness for yourself or anyone else in your home, we suggest that you take a closer look at our more detailed content listings.

  • Margherita and others have wine at a reception.
  • Rivera offers Rockefeller something to drink, but Nelson declines the offer. He later repeats the offer and Rockefeller accepts. Later, we see Rockefeller dancing with Rivera's models and some of them drink from a bottle.
  • People watching a rehearsal have wine.
  • Welles drinks from a flask.
  • Margherita and others have wine with dinner.
  • Welles pours liquor from a flask into a glass at a restaurant.
  • Some people have drinks.
  • The Countess has a drink.
  • We see Tommy lying on the floor drunk, an empty bottle next to him.
  • John has a drink.
  • A woman has a martini.
  • None.
  • Some may see the members of Congress and people like Hazel as having both for questioning the politics in art, while others may see those involved in the play as having some of both for using government funded productions as a pulpit. Likewise, viewers may be split over Rockefeller being upset about Rivera's choice of artistic impression in his hired painting of a large mural in Rockefeller center.
  • Olive briefly lies about her acting experience to Hazel, but then tells the truth.
  • Tommy has a bad attitude about himself and most everyone else.
  • Margherita uses the funds she raises by being an art courier/agent to fund fascist factions.
  • People, including Welles, get mad at Olive during rehearsal for her lack of acting skills (despite them knowing she's a complete novice from the beginning).
  • John tells Olive that if she doesn't boycott the performance along with the other actors on strike, she can find another place to live (she's been staying with him).
  • None.
  • Some soldiers carrying rifles.
  • Phrases: "You dumb sh*t," "Shut up," "Whore," "Nuts" (crazy), "Looney," "Piss off," "Bitch," "Bastard" and "Nut case."
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • At least 8 "f" words, 1 "s" word, 2 slang terms for/using male genitals ("d*ck" and "pr*ck"), 9 hells, 3 damns, 2 S.O.B.s, 1 ass, and 5 uses of "G-damn," 3 of "God," 2 each of "For God's sakes" and "Good Lord" and 1 use each of "Oh God" and "Oh my God" as exclamations.
  • A painting shows part of a woman's bare breast, including the nipple.
  • Marc is writing a play that's partly about a prostitute.
  • Rockefeller visits Rivera who's working on a painting of several women with one in the painting showing a bare breast. We then see his human models who show bare breasts and one who shows full frontal nudity.
  • As Rockefeller later dances with them, we see brief glimpses of one woman's bare breasts (as she wears an unbuttoned shirt).
  • Marc jokingly states that he's a homosexual.
  • Those on a theater stage see a young couple fooling around in the balcony and comment "Oh to be young" and "They're like bunnies." From a distance we see the topless woman on top of the man as they roll around. The couple then stands up and we see her bare breasts again. Months later, we see that this woman is pregnant.
  • A character mentions talking about politics and not immoral procreation or lust.
  • Hazel mentions a play where a character has sexual intercourse with his mother.
  • Margherita shows some cleavage.
  • Welles makes an off-hand comment about Houseman not being heterosexual.
  • We see Olive in John's bed, but there isn't any activity (although it's implied since she's now living with him).
  • The two young men studying under Tommy state, "We're homosexuals, not communists. We're pink, not red."
  • Rivera comments on thinking that Margherita was Jewish, but that she slept with so many fascists. She then corrects him by stating that it was only one.
  • Welles smokes a cigar, a man who works in Hallie's office smokes a few times, and various miscellaneous or background characters occasionally smoke.
  • Marc mentions that his wife passed away the year before.
  • Aldo gets into a fight with his extended family after being upset about some of his kids joining in and singing a pro-fascist song.
  • Censorship.
  • Communism and fascism and America's reaction to those ideologies many decades ago.
  • In the background of a shot we see police beating and kicking workers who are striking. One of the cops then hits Marc on the back with his night stick/baton.
  • A person slaps another person on the back of the head.

  • Reviewed December 8, 1999 / Posted December 31, 1999

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