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Four Sons (1928)

Passed | | Drama, War | 13 February 1928 (USA)
A family saga in which three of a Bavarian widow's sons go to war for Germany and the fourth goes to America, Germany's eventual opponent.

Director:

John Ford

Writers:

Philip Klein (adapted by), I.A.R. Wylie (story) (as Miss I.A.R. Wylie)
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1 win. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Margaret Mann ... Mother Bernle
James Hall ... Joseph - Her Son
Charles Morton ... Johann - Her Son
Francis X. Bushman Jr. ... Franz - Her Son
George Meeker ... Andreas - Her Son
June Collyer ... Annabelle
Earle Foxe ... Major von Stomm
Albert Gran ... The Postman
Frank Reicher ... The Schoolmaster
Archduke Leopold of Austria Archduke Leopold of Austria ... A Captain
Ferdinand Schumann-Heink Ferdinand Schumann-Heink ... A Staff Sergeant
Jack Pennick ... The Iceman
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Storyline

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 David Steele

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

She gave them up, one by one, and her heart and soul with them, on the altar of self-sacrifice. (Print Ad- Morning Bulletin, ((Rockhampton, Queensland)) 26 April 1929) See more »

Genres:

Drama | War

Certificate:

Passed | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

13 February 1928 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Cuatro hijos See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Fox Film Corporation See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Movietone) (musical score and sound effects)| Silent

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

F.W. Murnau's city sets from Sunrise (1927) were re-used for the New York sequences. See more »

Goofs

In the New York City sequences, which take place immediately after World War I (1919-1920), all of the women's fashions are strictly in the style of 1928, and all of the automobiles are of late 1920's design. See more »

Quotes

The Iceman: [Hearing a voice groaning in German out in no-man's land] Hey, Dutch, what's that guy yellin' out there?
Joseph - Her Son: The poor devil's calling 'Mutterchen' - it means 'little mother.'
The Iceman:
  • I guess those fellows have mothers too.

See more »

Connections

Featured in John Ford (1993) See more »

Soundtracks

The Sidewalks of New York
(1894) (uncredited)
Music by Charles Lawlor
Played after Mother Bernle leaves Ellis Island
See more »

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User Reviews

 
An oddly truncated "epic"
25 October 2015 | by ofumalowSee all my reviews

It would be interesting to know the history behind this late silent release, which was apparently quite popular at the time but now feels like a somewhat butchered edit of what was originally planned as a "Big Parade"-like epic--I have no idea if that's what actually happened to it, but that's how it plays. (It's possible that the talkie craze had escalated such between its green- lighting and completion that the studio decided a long, elaborate silent would only reduce the number of screenings/box office per day, and ordered the film severely cut.)

The cluttered story about a loving Bavarian small-town family and its fate during WW1 is staged with lavish care in virtually every shot, with beautiful lighting/camera-movement effects and frequent large numbers of extras and bit players involved. Yet the story itself hurtles along with so little time for detail and characterization that the emotional impact is blunted. Of the titular four sons, only the one who goes to America is given significant screen time, which greatly lessens the intended impact when siblings become combat casualties. So the primary focus falls on their widowed ma, a Mother Macree type (curiously, Ford made another film of that precise name the same year) whose selfless suffering over the years is portrayed gracefully, yet is a rather one-note and predictable characterization to base the entire film around. And the villainous German officers who send her boys off to their deaths are even more caricatured "Dirty Hun" types, complete with omnipresent sneers and monocles.

Scene by scene, "Four Sons" is directed in such a virtuoso fashion, and the production so ambitious in story arc and physical scale, that it feels like a leisurely, sentimental but masterly 2 1/2 hour epic that unfortunately somehow got reduced to a 90-minute highlight reel with little nuance or breathing room. That Ford could do better is clear from such films of the same era as "The Iron Horse" and "3 Bad Men." "Four Sons" is still well worth seeing, for its visual qualities in particular as well as numerous effective individual sequences. But it plays like the truncated shell of something that was originally planned as a much more expansive project.


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