In Burgendorf, Bavaria, Mother Bernle has four sons. Franz is in the army, Johann works at the forge, Andreas tends the sheep. Joseph is riding a hay wagon with a pretty girl when some of the hay falls off, landing on the fearsome Maj. Von Stomm. Joseph gets a slap from the major... The jovial postman has brought a letter from America. Joseph has the offer of a job in the States. But getting there is so expensive... It's Mother Bernle's birthday and most of the town gathers for the dancing. Mother gives Joseph the money she has secreted away. He leaves for the USA... It is "Der Tag", The Day when war is declared. Franz and Johann are excited about their new uniforms. But America is still neutral. Joseph runs the German-American Delicatessen with his new wife Annabelle. The reports of the first German battles with the Russians are good. So why does the postman carry a black-edged letter for Mother Bernle? When America does enter the war, Joseph enlists and meets his friend, the iceman ... Written by
Other than The Iron Horse we rarely see John Ford's silent films. But in viewing Four Sons we can certainly spot a lot of stylistic traces and themes that mark Ford's more well known sound films.
Before The Iron Horse Ford was a director of Grade B westerns mostly starring Harry Carey. After The Iron Horse Ford started doing other kinds of films. A story with a German setting one might think would be unusual for Ford, but you examine it closely this film is as sentimental as any of his Irish films. And Margaret Mann who played the mother of the Four Sons was a harbinger of such later mother characters in Ford films as Olive Carey, Irene Rich, and the grandmama of them all, Jane Darwell.
Watch also how Ford handles the military sequences in both the German and American settings. The cultural differences are there, but the military way is universal. John Wayne is listed in a bit role as an Officer and I think I spotted him during a scene at a railway station where a particularly nasty Teutonic major played by Earle Foxe. Wayne I believe is one of his aides.
The story is a simple one Margaret Mann is a widow with four grown sons in a village in Bavaria. The sons are James Hall, Charles Morton, Ralph Bushman, and George Meeker. Hall has been in communication with a friend in America urging him to emigrate from Germany and he does. Hall does achieve the American dream, opening a successful business, marrying June Collyer and giving Mann her first grandchild. Then World War I comes and that's the rest of the story as Paul Harvey used to say.
Four Sons holds up well even after 80+ years. Mann's trials and tribulations as a mother certainly is a universal theme. And the ending is as happy and sentimental one as John Ford ever devised in any of his films.
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