All My Sons (1948)

All My Sonsall my sons poster
Directed by Irving Reis
Written by Chester Erskine based on the play by Arthur Miller
1948/USA
Universal International Pictures
First viewing/YouTube

 

“I know you’re no worse than most men but I thought you were better. I never saw you as a man. I saw you as my father.” ― Arthur Miller, All My Sons

Even in its sub-par YouTube version and in parts, this was a powerful and wonderfully acted drama.

During the war, Joe Keller (Edward G. Robinson) made a fortune churning out airplane parts for the government.  Later, both he and his partner were tried for delivering defective parts that resulted in the deaths of 27 men when their planes crashed.  The jury believed Joe’s testimony that he was home sick when his partner made the decision to ship the parts.  His partner and next door neighbor, Herbert Deever, was convicted and is now serving a long stretch in prison.

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Joe and his family live in a storybook neighborhood in small town America.  Their son Larry, a pilot, was listed as missing in action three years ago.  His mother, Kate (Mady Christians), refuses to believe he is dead.  She suffers from insomnia and assorted nervous ailments and Joe treats her with kid gloves.  Their other son Chris (Burt Lancaster) lives at home and is being groomed to take over the factory.

Chris has just announced he intends to ask Ann Deever, Joe’s partner’s daughter and his brother’s ex-fiancee to marry him.  His mother is adamantly opposed to this since approving of the marriage would mean acknowledging that her other son is not coming home. In addition, there is resistance against having any member of the partner’s family around although this point is not pressed.  Ann and her brother have not visited the father in years out of shame.

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Although Joe enjoys a cordial poker-playing relationship with his neighbors, it is privately believed by many that Joe knew all about the parts shipment.  After all, everybody at the plant always says “Ask Joe” if you have a question about anything at all.  Joe confronts it all with bluster and defiance.  Chris believes in his father.  Then Ann’s brother George (Howard Duff) arrives demanding to take her away.  He has finally visited his father and now believes  his father’s version of the events.  There is a massive confrontation and it looks like the engagement is off.

Heartbroken, Chris goes to visit Deever in jail.  Now he’s not so sure about his father any more.  Meanwhile, still in love with Chris, Ann shows up with a piece of information for his mother that will turn the Keller household upside down.  With Arlene Francis and Harry Morgan as neighbors.

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Edward G. Robinson is genius in this movie.  His character must be ruthless, courageous, and kind all at once and this is definitely the actor to pull that mixture off spectacularly.  He must convey the tragedy of a man both betrayed by and betraying the American dream and has all the gravitas necessary for the part.  While it is totally incredible that Burt Lancaster could be his offspring, the younger actor’s power matches him well.  I also thought Mady Christians was superb.  I had never seen the play or the movie before and I thought the writing was up there with Miller’s Death of a Salesman.  Recommended.

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