The Ramparts We Watch

Patrons at a theatre running “The Ramparts We Watch,” RKO, 1940, discover that the film has been temporarily banned.

Patrons at a theatre running “The Ramparts We Watch,” RKO, 1940, discover that the film has been temporarily banned.

Georgette McKee, at age 20, was a full five years away from her professional name change by studio head Jack L. Warner to Andrea King. She was living in New York pursuing a successful career in theatre when she was introduced to Louis de Rochemont, famed producer of the Oscar-winning March of Time newsreel series. Her good friend Philippe de Lacy who had appeared with her on Broadway in “Growing Pains” had recently gone to work for de Rochemont as a director’s assistant. When casting began for The March of Time‘s first full-length feature entitled “The Ramparts We Watch,” Philippe thought of his good friend Georgette for a part.

She would soon make her film debut as Hilda Bensinger in this politically ambitious ensemble “documentary.” The year was 1939, and with the war escalating in Europe and looming ominously over our own country, it was de Rogemont’s goal to raise awareness and emphasize the gravity of this situation by drawing a direct parallel between current events and the atrocities of the Great War some 20-odd years earlier. In order to maintain a realistic or documentary-style feel to the picture, his cast was comprised mostly of unknowns and local non-actors with a small number of East Coast professionals, including Georgette, sprinkled in here and there to add strength to the more dramatic reenactments.

Her scenes were shot entirely on location in New London, Connecticut, under the film’s second-unit director Shepard Traube, who would later be instrumental in casting Georgette for the National Tour of his smash Broadway thriller “Angel Street,” in 1942.

In early 1940, shortly after filming was completed on “The Ramparts We Watch,” Georgette was hired for the Lillian Gish company of the hugely successful stage comedy “Life With Father” in Chicago. And it was during her run as Mary Skinner in that play that she was called back briefly to New London to shoot an additional scene for this film. Sadly, “The Ramparts We Watch” opened to disappointing reviews, and Louis de Rochemont was particularly blasted for his use of mostly untrained actors. What he had hoped would add an air of authenticity instead became the film’s most noted criticism. Georgette, however, had been singled out in several reviews with praise for her promising abilities. Although one angry critic had delighted in seeing her work on Broadway and took harsh aim at the ad campaign that made a point of celebrating the movie’s “inexperienced” ensemble cast. Overall, the press found this experiment in casting amateurish, and the film came and went quickly.

Looking back, however, it is a bit frightening to see how right de Rochemont had been in predicting the scope of the Second World War on its very threshold. But our country was doing its best to pull up out of its own Great Depression, and hard-hitting messages of an impending global war were not very popular with filmgoers of the day.

"The Ramparts We Watch," RKO, 1940.

An advertisement for “The Ramparts We Watch,” RKO, 1940.