All My Sons

ALL MY SONS, directed by Irving Reis, released in 1948, was scripted by Chester Erskine, who adapted the previous year’s Broadway hit, the debut work from playwright Arthur Miller. In his 5th movie, rising star Burt Lancaster got a change-of-pace role as a gentle and thoughtful character as opposed to the hard cases he’d previously played. Burt’s second-billed after one of the original screen tough guys, Edward G. Robinson, the domineering father figure of the drama. Lancaster’s fine, Robinson’s superb, in a compelling family battle pitting honesty and loyalty against greed and corruption, backstopped by a hypocritical socio-economic system that makes pretty noises about one and slavishly rewards the other.

Back from the service, ‘Chris Keller’ (Lancaster) disappoints his father ‘Joe’ (Robinson) by not intending to follow Joe’s success as a manufacturer. When Chris intends to marry childhood friend ‘Ann Deever’, more family issues peak, since she’d been engaged to Chris’s brother ‘Larry’, missing in action: their mother refuses to believe he’s dead. On top of that, Ann’s father—Joe’s former partner—is in prison, taking the fall for selling defective airplane parts that caused numerous deaths during the war. Joe, also charged, was exonerated. Both Chris and Ann suspect something besides Larry is missing.

To try and stay ahead of the newly empowered Red-baiters, Miller’s play, taking capitalism to task (with plenty of war profiteering evidence available) was toned down for the screen to put blame on individuals (Joe in this case) rather than the system. Yet the acceptance-of-greed dynamic still comes thru, as does the sense of a hoped-for generational shift in outlooks. Robinson tears into the deceiver/denier role with gusto, while Lancaster’s quiet anguish registers.

Offbeat casting choices work by giving Ann’s role to Louisa Horton, who made her debut here at 23, and the part of mother ‘Kate Keller’ to Austrian-born Mady Christians. Horton only appeared in three more films, one in 1952 and two 24 years later. It was the next-to-last credit for Christians, who would shortly be blacklisted (she died in 1951 at the age of 59). During the filming, Hoover’s FBI termed the script “sickening”, an “open attack” on the family by alleged Commies; the smearing included targeting Robinson (whose career took a hit) and putting Lancaster on the ‘observe closely’ list.

94 minutes, with Howard Duff (good as Ann’s angry brother), Arlene Francis (a neat turn as a pretend-friendly neighbor) Frank Conroy (the shafted, imprisoned partner), Lloyd Gough (also blacklisted), Harry Morgan, Elisabeth Fraser, Helen Brown, Herb Vigran. Box office came to $2,900,000, 104th for guilt-by-thoughts ’48.

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