Thursday 23 August 2007

All My Sons (1948) Irving Reis

If you're going to have a tragic mind churner it's no bad thing to have Edward G Robinson in the lead. Here he's Joe Keller, a factory owner, who has Burt Lancaster for a son called Chris. The immediate drama is that Chris wants to marry Annie but Annie is his brother Larry's girl, and it's a tossup between whether his brother is missing or dead. Fast forward and Chris is back with Annie to stir everything up again. Mom is still holding out hope that Larry will one day come home, so all his shoes are kept polished and his clothes kept in the closet and the piano that he played kept closed. She's even got the neighbour to do a horoscope for him to prove that he couldn't have been killed on his favourable day.

We soon find out the rest, namely that there are some serious skeletons in the closet. Annie is the daughter of Joe's partner, who is serving a long term in prison and Joe himself is accused of being a murderer by a drunken woman who used to work in his factory during the war. The pair of them were apparently tried for knowingly supplying defective parts to the air force and thus causing the deaths of 21 pilots in Australia, and quite possibly Larry. Annie's father was convicted and the word is that Joe knew about it.

The story is melodrama but it's reasonably tight melodrama, based on a play by Arthur Miller. There's a huge grey area between right and wrong here, intention and circumstance and consequence. What makes it even more interesting is that it isn't necessary the original actions that have the biggest impact but those that came later. Gradually these things come out, as they must, stirred up by characters coming back from the past and bringing it back to life again. The story is half of it and the acting is the rest.

Without the right performances, this would have fallen flat, but I discovered a while ago that Edward G Robinson just didn't give bad ones and the more I see of him the more I believe that he simply didn't know how to give anything but a great one. He's great here, two films after The Stranger and one before Key Largo, as the good guy, the bad guy and the somewhere in between guy all wrapped into one. His face carries every emotion required and he's thoroughly believable at every step. Mady Christians is fine as his wife Kate and Lancaster is decent too though he's notably wooden compared to Eddie G. Then again his part doesn't have the depth that Robinson's had.

To talk more about it would be to analyse the ethics and that would spoil it. You need to work through them yourself, and you should certainly take the opportunity if it makes itself apparent.

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