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Early 1905, French governess Emilie Gallatin (Ingrid Bergman) is hired to care of a luxurious family mansion and the four sons of wealthy Adam Stoddard (Warner Baxter) and his wife, Molly Stoddard (Fay Wray). Things couldn't be more perfect, until in 1907, first Molly dies, and then the stock market crashes, wiping out the Soddard's fortune. Emilie is forced to go back home to France. The parting is difficult, for the teenager boys - Jack Stoddard (Billy Ray), David Stoddard (Steven Muller), Chris Stoddard (Wallace Chadwell), and Phillip Stoddard (Bobby Walberg) - had grown to depend on Emilie more after the loss of their mother, and Emilie had fallen in love with Adam. Seven years later, just before the beginning of World War I, the family's fortunes have improved, and Adam insists with Emilie to return and stay on as part of the family - preserving her from the foreseeable fates of war. The four boys are adults, and they all serve in various branches of the military - Jack Stoddard (...Written by
ADAM HAD FOUR SONS (Columbia, 1941), directed by Gregory Ratoff, could easily be mistaken for a Biblical story about Adam and Eve and their offsprings, starting with Cain and Abel, but it isn't. Taken from the novel "Legacy" by Charles Bonner, it's a turn of the century tale about a family man with a wife and four sons living in Connecticut, and how a French governess becomes part of their lives.
The story begins in 1905 with the Stoddard family, consisting of Adam (Warner Baxter), Molly (Fay Wray), and their four sons, Jack (Billy Day), David (Steven Muller), Charles (Wallace Chadwell) and Philip (Bobby Walberg) posing for their family portrait. Later the Stoddards head for the train station to greet their new French governess, Emilie Gallatin (Ingrid Bergman). Surprised to find her so young, she immediately makes a good impression with the family. During a family Thanksgiving, Molly becomes ill and later dies. Adam, finding it hard to go on without his wife, sells his house, sends his boys, except for the youngest, away to school, but most of all, his hardest decision in sending Emilie back to her homeland. Years pass. With the Stoddard company a success, Adam purchases his former home and remodels it, but most of all, sends for Emilie to return to her former household position. It is now 1918 and the boys, David (Johnny Downs), Jack (Richard Denning), Philip (Charles Lind) and Charles (Robert Shaw) have grown to fine young men. The surprise comes when David returns home with Hester (Susan Hayward), his bride. Hester remains in the Stoddard home while David goes off to war. While the men like Hester, both Emilie and the visiting Cousin Phillipa (Helen Westley) take an immediate dislike to her, for reasons of their own. Their hunches are proved correct when the family becomes more divided than together because of Hester, and it's now up to Emilie to do something about it before it is too late. June Lockhart (Vance), the girl next door who likes Philip; Pietro Sosso (Otto); Gilbert Emery (Doctor Lane); Renie Riano (Miss Bonson); Clarence Muse and William B. Davidson also complete the cast.
A good story that, by today's standards, is completely underrated and forgotten through the passage of time. Maybe the title or fact that having the audience accept the Swedish born Ingrid Bergman playing a French governess instead of a Swedish one might have something to do with it. For her second movie role in America, Bergman was popular enough to award feature billing over such veteran performers as Warner Baxter and Fay Wray. While Bergman doesn't really age through the passage of time, at least Baxter gets his limited share of gray hair around his temples. Of the members of the cast, the one who gathers the most attention is the young and youthful Susan Hayward. Having been in movies for a short time, her role as Hester allows her to improve her ability as an actress, and make the most of it around such a capable cast before becoming a major actress herself by the end of the decade to the next. Another added bonus to this production is having the characters dress according to time frame rather than wearing 1941 costumes and headdresses for an early 1900s setting. One surprise is to how small Fay Wray's (star of the legendary 1933 classic KING KONG) role was for this production.
A fine family film where the attention falling mostly Hayward's character, ADAM HAD FOUR SONS at least did get its share of revivals over the years through home video distributions as early as 1984, (much later on DVD), followed by rare cable broadcasts as Turner Network Television (TNT) in 1992, and Turner Classic Movies where the film has been showing occasionally since August 29, 2006. For anyone who's never seen nor heard of this movie, should give it a try. (***)
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