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FOUR SONS (director: John Ford; screenwriters: from the story “Grandma Bernle Learns Her Letters” by Miss I.A.R. Wylie/Herman Bing/Philip Klein/H.H. Caldwell/Katherine Hilliker; cinematographers: Charles G. Clarke/George Schneiderman; editor: Margaret V. Clancey; music: Carli Elinor; cast: Margaret Mann (Mother Bernle), James Hall (Joseph ‘Dutch’ Bernle), Charles Morton (Johann Bernle), Francis X. Bushman, Jr. (Franz Bernle), George Meeker (Andreas Bernle), June Collyer (Annabelle), Earle Foxe (Maj. von Stomm), Albert Gran (The postman), Frank Reicher (The schoolmaster), Archduke Leopold of Austria (A captain), Ferdinand Schumann-Heink (A staff sergeant), Jack Pennick (The Iceman, Joseph’s American friend); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Ford; Fox; 1928-silent)
The moving sentimental tale about the horrors of war registered with the public, who made it a smashing box office hit.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Ford (“The Iron Horse”/”Judge Priest”/”The Informer”) directs with passion this silent WW I tearjerker. It’s based on the story by Miss I.A.R. Wylie entitled “Grandma Bernle Learns Her Letters,” that appeared as a short story in the 1926 Saturday Evening Post.The moving sentimental tale about the horrors of war registered with the public, who made it a smashing box office hit. It was remade in 1940 by Archie Mayo, who switched locales from Germany to Czechoslovakia. The Four Sons was Ford’s first chance to show what he learned about “German expressionism” from the great emigre German director F.W. Murnau, now working in Hollywood for Fox and a mentor to Ford.

In the peaceful village of Burgendorf, Bavaria, the widowed Mother Bernle (Margaret Mann) has four sons: Joseph (James Hall), Johann (Charles Morton), Franz (Francis X. Bushman, Jr.) and Andreas (George Meeker). Franz is a soldier in the German army, Johann is a blacksmith, Andreas a shepherd and Joseph, working as a carriage driver, accepts a job in America to run a German-American deli. He gets married to the American named Annabelle (June Collyer). War is declared, but America remains neutral. When America enters the war, Joseph enlists on the American side. Meanwhile mom’s other three sons fight for Germany. Tragedy hits home when one after another of the saintly mom’s three sons who fought for the Kaiser, die in battle. At the war’s end, mom, a fish out of water, goes to America to live with Joseph and his Americanized son.

There was an eerie memorable use of sound on the battlefield, as one of the sons can be heard crying out for his mother.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”