All My Sons (1948)

Synopsis:

A self-made businessman (Edward G. Robinson, Little Caesar), who was once accused of knowingly selling defective equipment to the government, suddenly realizes that the past has come back to haunt him.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Don’t you think about people? Don’t you live in the world?”

This screen version of Arthur Miller’s Tony-winning play of the same name lacks the emotional intensity of the theatrical experience. In the end, what makes the movie work is the excellent work of actors Edward G. Robinson and Burt Lancaster.

The play was adapted by Chester Erskine (The Egg and I), who also produced the movie for Universal Studios. Erskine opened up the play a little too much, diluting some of the play’s raw energy in the process. Miller’s three-act play is entirely set in one location, and while I acknowledge that leaving the play as it was written makes no cinematic sense, moving the action across multiple locales somehow hurts the flow of the story.

Perhaps Irving Reis (The Big Street and The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer) wasn’t the right person to helm the film. In my opinion, Reis doesn’t take any risks and settles for conventional blocking techniques. The original 1946 Broadway production was directed by the great Elia Kazan (A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront), and I’m convinced that the celebrated Oscar-winning director would have done a much better job translating the famous stage play to the silver screen.

There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing good material fall short of its potential. Thankfully, Robinson and Lancaster’s excellent performances more than make up for the film’s flaws. Because he admired Miller’s play, Lancaster campaigned hard for the role of the son. While this character isn’t as well written as the character of the father, Lancaster is good at conveying moral outrage and disappointment.

All My Sons really belongs to veteran actor Robinson, who is brilliant as the unethical businessman. Most people remember Robinson as one of Warner Brothers studio’s tough guys, but I much prefer his 1940s output. Double Indemnity (1944), Scarlet Street (1945), Key Largo (1948), House of Strangers (1949), etc., all great examples of the actor’s extraordinary talents. Count Robinson’s father in All My Sons among the actor’s very best performances. Robinson has a couple of great scenes with Lancaster.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

You guessed it! All My Sons isn’t one of my favorite stage-to-screen movie adaptations. Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of the play (I don’t think it is as good as Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman or The Crucible). But Miller’s story deals with many issues — business ethics, survivor’s guilt, etc. — that are still discussed today. And the Robinson-Lancaster duo is way too interesting to pass up. B&W, 94 minutes, Not Rated.

5 responses to “All My Sons (1948)

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