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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

FOUR SONS (1928)


John Ford’s WWI set tear-jerker about a Bavarian widow & her eponymous boys (army man, blacksmith, farmer & herder) works us hard for its tears. While it prefigures Ford’s later work, especially HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, the sculpted cinematography & expressively mobile camerawork are dead giveaways to the enormous artistic influence German director F. W. Murnau briefly held over mainstream Hollywood. (The magnificent war-front sequence takes place on left-over sets from his SUNRISE.) The first act strenuously sets up the happy little operetta village that will turn dark in wartime and it works because the old sentimental stories made you pay for your tears with devastating losses. Here, sons fight on both sides of the war which was the true life story for cast member Ferdinand Schumann-Heink, son of legendary contralto Ernestine S-H. There’s a structural problem Ford can’t accommodate when Mom emigrates to America after the war, but you’ll see why the film was such a huge success, especially in the current DVD release with its superb new score and generally excellent picture quality.

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