Monday, August 31, 2009

Four Sons (John Ford) *1/2

John Ford

Cast: Margaret Mann, James Hall, Charles Morton, Ralph Bushman, George Meeker, June Collyer

Background: The plot for this movie was adapted from a novel by I.A.R. Wylie. After a career as a character actress, Margaret Mann was given her biggest role to date.

Story: A widow (Mann) watches as her four sons leave home one by one. Joseph has decided to make a living in the United States, while his brothers eventually fight for Germany in World War 1. When America enters the war, Joseph finds on the opposite side of the battlefield as his brothers.

Thoughts: This is all very ridiculous. You'd think there would be plenty to milk out of this premise. The basic situation has some psychological complexity to it. But Ford isn't interested in any of that. He's just here to manipulate the audience, forcefully plucking those tears from their eyes. What almost works is the bravura performance from Margaret Mann, who almost sells this nonsense. She creates such a convincingly real character that it's impossible not to feel sympathy for her predicament. Unfortunately, every time we get to that point, Ford is back to plucking once again. The third act is particularly bad, with one of the most unconvincing endings I've seen in a silent movie.

Postscript: Despite her great performance, this would turn out to be the only lead role Margaret Mann would get. She continued acting through the next decade, but in mostly minor roles. It would be 11 years before Ford would make what is considered to be his first masterpeice, Stagecoach.

No comments: