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Four Sons (1928)

Passed  -  Drama  -  13 February 1928 (USA)
7.1
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Ratings: 7.1/10 from 402 users  
Reviews: 12 user | 4 critic

A family saga in which three of a Bavarian widow's sons go to war for Germany and the fourth goes to America, Germany's eventual opponent.

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(adapted by), (story), 3 more credits »
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Title: Four Sons (1928)

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Margaret Mann ...
Mother Bernle
James Hall ...
Joseph - Her Son
Charles Morton ...
Johann - Her Son
Ralph Bushman ...
Franz - Her Son (as Francis X. Bushman Jr.)
George Meeker ...
Andreas - Her Son
...
Annabelle
Earle Foxe ...
Major von Stomm
Albert Gran ...
The Postman
...
The Schoolmaster
Archduke Leopold of Austria ...
A Captain
Ferdinand Schumann-Heink ...
A Staff Sergeant
Jack Pennick ...
The Iceman
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Storyline

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 David Steele

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

BIG AS THE HEART OF HUMANITY! (original print ad - all caps)

Genres:

Drama

Certificate:

Passed | See all certifications »
Edit

Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

13 February 1928 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Cuatro hijos  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(Movietone) (musical score and sound effects)|

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

F.W. Murnau's city sets from Sunrise (1927) were re-used for the New York sequences. See more »

Goofs

In the New York City sequences, which take place immediately after World War I (1919-1920), all of the women's fashions are strictly in the style of 1928, and all of the automobiles are of late 1920's design. See more »

Connections

Featured in Hollywood (1980) See more »

Soundtracks

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
(uncredited)
Traditional
Played when Mother Bernle recites her letters
See more »

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User Reviews

 
"The Old World"
1 January 2009 | by (Ruritania) – See all my reviews

In late 1920s Hollywood there was a brief craze for German cinema, especially at Fox, who had recently appropriated FW Murnau. It was no surprise then that, as well as bringing over the genuine article, the studios would also begin cranking out a few pictures that were Germanic in setting if not in style. Four Sons also takes advantage of the trend for World War pictures after the success The Big Parade.

As well as directing Four Sons, John Ford was also the producer, which is bit of a mixed blessing. With the director allowed greater executive control you get all the best and worst of the free-range Ford. As has often been remarked, Ford had "economy of expression" – that is, the ability to convey information and story in as few shots as possible. The flipside of this however is that he did tend to get bogged down with comedy scenes, or in this case restating and reinforcing the sense of rural simplicity and family unity until it becomes more monotonous than moving. The comic moments are particularly weak in this picture – just fat men with moustaches and Prussians with monocles being stereotypically Teutonic.

But one great advantage of having Ford as producer is that the picture is relatively free from unnecessary intertitles. All the great silent directors were of course skilled visual storytellers and Ford is no exception, and of course different screenwriters vary in their wordiness, but the frequency and necessity of intertitles would ultimately be down to whoever was in overall charge of the production. Ford has here cut down the title cards to a minimum, and so we get some great little moments such as the postman turning the first letter over in Mother Bernle's hands to let us know that she cannot read, or the villagers approaching the postman to find out if is their family who is to receive the black envelope – moments which would have been ruined by a load of intertitles in many other productions of this era.

And the visual style of Ford's pictures was by now more or less fully developed. It's interesting to see here how in Ford's world there is no midpoint between town and country. We don't see, for example, the village framed by surrounding hills or fields, or even against the sky. The village itself is the frame and the background, as if to make it an enclosed and totally civilized space. In contrast, whenever Ford shot a scene out in the wilderness he emphasised its openness – although Four Sons never really gets out in the open air so you don't see that here.

While Four Sons may be somewhat awash with sentimentality, Ford's simplistic approach of showing the tenderest moments with delicate shot composition does at least allow the picture some dignity. For example, he uses the overhead light to throw an almost heavenly glow over the family meal scene, then later echoes this with the shot of Mother Bernle grieving in a shaft of daylight. The most effective shot of all though is when Joseph says goodbye to his wife before going off to war. Ford goes against convention by filming the couple from behind in long shot, and the beauty of this moment almost makes me forgive all the other flaws of the picture. It's also a good decision not to show their faces, because James Hall was not a particularly good actor, as we can see in the scene where he returns home again.

In spite these touches of brilliance, the picture as a whole is weakened because it continually bombards us with either sentiment or tragedy. Of course, cinema would be dull indeed without poignancy, but poignancy only works in small doses. Saturate a picture in emotions and the individual tugs lose impact. Four Sons is a good work for Ford the director, but this fact doesn't quite save it from the poor judgment of Ford the producer.


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