Archive | May 31, 2010

Fun With Mommy

Last night I watched, on and off, most of a 1928 John Ford silent movie called Four Sons. It wasn’t a great movie (it’s gaggingly sentimental, for one thing), but it was surprisingly anti-war and anti-government for a Memorial Day movie.

Four Sons (well, two of them)

It’s about an elderly Bavarian woman whose four sons all go off to fight in World War I, three on the German side and one, who has emigrated to America, on the American side. The three who fight for Germany are all killed one after another (the third dying in the arms of the fourth), but despite this the mother is bullied and treated as a pariah by the local military authorities (played with entertaining villainy) because the fourth son is a “traitor.”

After the war her only surviving son invites her to come live with him in America, but the u.s. immigration authorities refuse to let her in because the bereaved and traumatised woman can’t pass the literacy test.

The ending doesn’t make much sense – panicked and bewildered, she wanders away from Ellis Island and onto the streets of Manhattan (how she “wanders” across New York Harbor is never explained, unless she is even more saintly than she appears), and when a policeman learns her story he implausibly delivers her to her son rather than back to Ellis Island; cue happy-ish ending.

The German military brass are portrayed as treating civilians with contempt and taking petty revenge on them for tiny slights; the American authorities seem nicer, but try to keep the woman from her surviving son anyway, explaining that they’re just following orders. The war is portrayed as utterly pointless. So, all in all, not a bad Memorial Day movie.

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