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All My Sons

Posted by martinteller on December 13, 2014

Chris Keller (Burt Lancaster) wants to marry girl-next-door Annie Deever (Louisa Horton).  There are a couple of issues with this union, however.  The first is that Annie was engaged to Chris’s brother Larry, who went missing during the war three years ago and is presumed dead.  But Chris’s mother Kate (Mady Christians) hasn’t accepted it yet and refuses to believe that Larry won’t come home one day.  The other issue is a rift that lingers between the two families: a scandal that put Annie’s father Herbert (Frank Conroy) in prison while Chris’s father Joe (Edward G. Robinson) — Herbert’s business partner — walked free.  And a scandal that cost the lives of many airmen.  Joe throws his support behind Chris and Annie, but Kate resists… and Annie’s brother George (Howard Duff) shows up with a chip on his shoulder.

This was originally one of my Noir-vember picks, but someone warned me there was little noir about it so I postponed it.  And he was right: despite the “film noir” genre tag on IMDb and the inclusion on TSPDT’s “More American Noir” list, this doesn’t have the sizzling tension of a true film noir, though there is some thematic common ground.  Adapted from a play by Arthur Miller (written just before “Death of a Salesman”, with which it has some similarities), it addresses a number of postwar anxieties, conflicts and unresolved feelings… loose ends that will be forever be loose ends, frayed and damaged.

It’s powerful stuff, that unfolds in beautifully arranged layers.  The story is consistently kept interesting by introducing new elements every few steps along the way.  I haven’t read the original play, but the treatment by Chester Erskine (Split Second, Angel Face, Witness to Murder) seems well adapted to the screen, enhanced by the excellent cinematography of Russell Metty (a number of great noirs, most notably Touch of Evil, and some of Sirk’s best-looking films as well).  The script does contain a little too much preachy speechifying and lacks a sense of raw realism, but the dialogue is well-written for the most part and the plot construction is very satisfying.  What seems like a simple domestic drama takes on different dimensions, and you want to see how it unfolds.

Can we talk about how underrated Edward G. Robinson is?  To those in the know, he’s a legend, but in popular culture he’s just the guy with the nasally voice who plays gangsters and says “see?” a lot.  He really ought to be up there with Bogart.  With the possible exception of his painful dialect work in House of Strangers, I can’t think of a bad Robinson performance.  He’s always terrific.  And this might be some of his best acting, full of that phony righteous indignation that comes with a guilty conscience.  Although the rest of the cast is very good (Lancaster not exactly at his finest, but solid) it’s Robinson who gives the film its power, especially in its final moments.  Rating: Very Good (83)


2 Responses to “All My Sons”

  1. Mik Sohn said

    E.G. was a character actor (read “not good-looking”) while Bogey was a good actor but also a sex symbol. For the American public, the latter always trumps the former.

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