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Philippe De Lacy,
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
Sentimental, but not mawkish, the early John Ford silent, "Four Sons," is a well made film that exemplifies early 20th century values. The four sons of a Bavarian widow are swept up in the events of World War I. Three of the boys fight for the Kaiser, while the fourth, who had emigrated to the United States, is on the opposite side. The screenplay does not dwell on politics, although the German officers have villainous characters, and the American son chastises an employee for advocating war, because "America is neutral." Most of the action takes place in a small village in Bavaria, and the unspoken message is that ordinary Germans are as kind and feeling as people everywhere.
Despite a predictable storyline, the performances avoid the "grand style" that gave silent acting a bad name. Made in 1928 at the apogee of the American silent era, John Ford's direction is solid, and the film foreshadows his adaptation of "How Green Was My Valley" more than a decade later. Certainly the two strong mothers who suffer the absence of their sons have much in common. If John Ford had not directed "Four Sons," the film could have been largely forgotten. Plot holes abound, and coincidences occur that "only happen in the movies." However, the film is a good example of popular entertainment in the late silent era, and modern audiences will likely be engaged, especially students of Ford and those with an affection for silent movies.
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