Blockade (1938) 



Director:    William Dieterle.

Starring:  Madeleine Carroll (Norma),  Henry Fonda (Marco),  Leo Carrillo (Luis),  John Halliday (Andre Gallinet),  Vladimir Sokoloff (Basil, Norma's Father),  Robert Warwick (General Vallejo),  Reginald Denny (Edward Grant),  Peter Godfrey (Magician),  William B. Davidson (Commandant),  Katherine DeMille (Cabaret Girl),  Fred Kohler (Pietro),  Carlos De Valdez (Major del Rio),  Nick Thompson (Seppo),  George Houston (The Troubador),  Lupita Tovar (Palm Reader). 

anti-war drama of peasant farmer forced to take up arms to defend his farm during the Spanish Civil War


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Spain, spring 1936.  A sheepherder named Luis plays the flute to his sheep.  A young farmer named Marco speaks with Luis.  As farm animals cross the road a fast car comes around the corner.  To avoid the animals the car swerves off the highway and the radiator is pierced by a piece of wood.  Marco and Luis come running over to the car to ask the driver, a blonde named Norma, if she is all right.  Yes, she is.  She tells them she has to get to Castlemare.  Luis gets the oxen to pull the car to Castlemare.  Marco rides in the car with Norma.  They have a good time talking to each other.  When they arrive at Castlemare Norma asks Marco to come inside and meet her father.  But Marco says he has to get back to the farm to do his chores. 

Norma greets her father.  With him is a man named Andre Gallinet.  Norma says to her father that he promised never to do business with Andre ever again.  Andre says they have to be in Granada in the morning in order to pick up a delivery. 

Luis says that Norma is a good looking woman.  Marco tells him that the relationship is an impossible one and now he only wants to forget her.  In the distance they hear what sounds like the explosion of an artillery shell. But who would be shooting at this hour of the night, they wonder.  Then they see refugees on the run along the road.  On the road in a fancy car is Norma, her father and Andre.  A guard stops them.  They explain that they are going to Granada.  But they won't be able to get through, so the guard suggests that they use the road through the mountains.  Marco starts to fear that he will be pushed off his beloved farmland.  So he starts to scream at the fleeing men to stop and fight.  He convinces quite a few men to put up a defensive position.  When the enemy approaches the men open fire. 

Marco is praised for his performance and is made a lieutenant.  The province has been cut-off and if the enemy take Castlemare the whole province will fall.  Marco puts up a don't talk to strangers sign warning of the possibility of spies.  He goes inside the bar to check things out.  He sees Luis there.  Luis tells him to arrest the magician.  The magician is demonstrating his tricks on Norma's father.  Marco notices him because he has very fancy shoes which are at complete odds with the rest of his outfit.  Marco decides to follow the mystery man.  At his place, Norma's dad reads the message slipped to him:  "Friday morning food ship Fortuna, point 8-16."  Marco knocks on the door.  When dad opens it, Marco tells him that he is coming with him to Headquarters.  While Marco checks out the room Norma's dad puts on his shoes.  While Marco is distracted, dad pulls out a gun and shoots  He misses.  Marco returns fire and dad is killed.  The door opens and Marco hides himself.  Norma comes into the room and finds her father dead on the floor.  Shortly afterwards, Republican soldiers arrive.  Marco comes out of hiding.  Norma screams:  "You did it, you killed him."  He arrests Norma.  She will have to speak to a military court.  Norma is very nervous about this and asks Marco:  "What should I do?"  Marco tells her to tell the truth. 

An air raid begins.  Anti-aircraft guns try to blast the plane out of the sky.  Marco grabs Norma and takes her down to the basement.  Then a bomb hits near the basement entrance and closes it off.  They are trapped in the basement.  While waiting for their rescue, Marco says that they met the night before the war started.   Norma says:  "I can't forget what you've done."  Marco throws a hand grenade at the blockage of the exit/entrance to get the attention of anyone looking for survivors.  Luis hears the noise from outside and bets it's his pal.  He and some other men start digging.  Meanwhile, Norma tells Macro that she was born during the Russian Revolution.  Her mother was killed when she (Norma) was very young and her mother was holding Norma, while standing in front of her father.  She says that she has never had a country. 

Luis breaks through to his buddy and Norma.  Norma faints and they have to get her out into the open air fast.  When Marco gets out of the basement, Norma is gone.  Marco wants to chase after her, but he hears a baby crying.  He runs into a bombed building and finds the young female child.  He brings her out from the building.  He is told that Norma is at headquarters. 

At headquarters Gen. Vallejo says that the enemy blockade could force the city into starvation and that would force them to surrender.  Andre arrives and he vouches for Norma.  Vallejo and Andre seem to be good buddies.  Norma cries about her father when she speaks with Andre.  Andre tells her:  "Norma, I'm offering you adventure, money, love."  When she does not respond positively, he tells her that he could have her shot with one negative word to Vallejo.  He adds that she has no chance without him.  Furthermore, he promises that if she follows his orders she will get her freedom.   

Andre tells her to go to Castlemare.  She will be free when the province falls.  Castlemare is the only port in the province bringing in food to the city and province.  He says she will be there to help stop the food ship from arriving.

Norma is on a train headed to Castlemare.  A guy confides in her.  He says he feels he can trust her.  But the man is throw out of the compartment because it is reserved for ladies only.  Marcos comes into the train compartment and asks for her papers.  She says she is going to Castlemare.  Her papers are signed by the Commissioner of Public Safety.  Marco says he came to warn her.  She tells him that she'll be careful.  Luis is also on the train with the baby girl with him. 

At Castlemare the news is that the enemy knows about every attempt to run the blockade.  Norma runs into the man on the train who trusts her.  As she talks with him, the waitress comes over and spills water on their table.  She says will be go and get some more water and will be back shortly.  This is the sign that the waitress is Norma's contact person.  Later Norma slips the message inside a pill wrapped in a money bill to the waitress.  Norma mentions that it is horrible to watch the children starve.  The man on the train says that they think the information about the food shipments is coming from this neighborhood. 

The waitress and a man read the message:  The Fortuna comes next Tuesday  - destroy it.   The message is relayed to a German submarine. 

Norma continues to be upset by the starvation in the city.  Unbeknownst to her, she is being followed.  Finally she screams:  "I can't stand it anymore" and runs away for the man on the train.  She runs to Luis to tell him that she has a plan.  When Luis sees Marco, he tells him that he had better arrest that girl because he could be accused of aiding her since he is so fond of her.  Norma speaks with Marco.  She admits to him that she is a spy.  Norma says that the message was delivered and that the submarine will destroy the food ship.  Marco asks her what made her change her mind.  It was seeing all the starving women and children.  She can't bear it.  She asks Marco to give her a couple of hours before arresting her.  She says she will be able to save the food ship. 

Norma leaves and Marco follows her.  A little ways behind Marco is a number of Republican soldiers.  She gets past the guards.  She uses the password to get into the operation headquarters.  She tells the men there that she has a new message for X4.  They are to re-contact the submarine and tell it to go back to their base at once.  But just as the fascists start to contact the submarine, Marco and his men bust into the place and the firing begins.  The men head out for the back exit.  They bring Norma with them.  As the men emerge from the basement they are grabbed by the Republicans. Norma is shocked to see Marco there and she says something to him.  This alerts the fascists to the fact that it was Norma who betrayed them.   All six men are taken in along with Norma.  Norma yells at Marco for not trusting her.  She tells him she could have prevented the good ship from being torpedoes.  Marco does not say much. 

The German submarine fires a torpedo at the ship and sinks it.  The on-lookers from the shore are crushed.  Their hopes are dashed.   A woman talks to an imaginary baby in her arms and then jumps into the water. 

Andre and Vallejo arrive by car.  They are told that the relief ship has been torpedoed. Vallejo gives the o.k. to execute the six fascists immediately.  Vallejo talks alone with Norma.  She tells him that she has only told him about what happened.  She also says that she wants to make up for what she has done to the people of Castlemare.  Andre comes in and it is soon apparent that Vallejo is working with Andre.  Vallejo tells Andre that Norma was just about to betray him.  All six men are executed.  Andre is very happy.  Now the men can't talk.  Norma makes a run for it, but Andre catches up with her.  He tells her that her father was a spy.  Norma is shocked when she realizes that Andre actually planned her father's death.

The shout goes up that the food ship is coming in now.  Vallejo and Andre soon learn that Luis and some men towed a ghost ship into the area and the submarine sunk it thinking it was the food ship.  Vallejo realizes that they have been tricked. 

Andre starts to make the call so that the submarine can be alerted to what has happened.  Norma shoots and kills him before he can actually make the call.  Vallejo and Marco come into the room.  When Vallejo leaves the room he locks the door behind him.  The other door is locked by soldiers working with Vallejo.  Norma and Marco once again find themselves imprisoned.  When Luis and his men return from the ghost ship expedition, they are arrested by Vallejo's soldiers. 

The ship comes in.  The people all cheer.  Soldiers come into Marco and Norma's room and take Marco's pistol.  After they leave, Norma tells Marco that it mustn't end like this.  They kiss.  The soldiers come back to take Norma and Marco to see Vallejo.  The first net of supplies is placed on the dock.  The people jump with joy.  Marco's baby girl finally gets her milk.  The local citizens come in to thank General Vallejo. The soldiers bring Norma and Marco into Vallejo's office.  Vallejo gets scared and demands to know by whose authority did the soldiers bring the prisoners in to see him.  The Republican commandant comes into the room and says he authorized it.  He sets Norma and Marco free.  The commandant accuses Vallejo of being a traitor. 

The commandant tells Marco to take a leave of absence and find some peace somewhere.  But an upset Marco shouts:  Peace?  Where can you find it?  Women and children cannot even be protected from death.  He says it's war, it's murder.  And the world can stop it!  Turning to the audience, he asks:  Where's the conscience of the world? 


Basically it's a simple love story and an espionage story set against the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.  One of the complexities of the war is that it is hard to know fascist from Republican and spies can be anywhere.  After all, it's basically Spaniard against Spaniard. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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