The great German actor Emil Jannings closed out the American phase of his film career with the Paramount part-talkie Sins of the Fathers. Jannings is cast as Wilhelm Spangler, who works as a head waiter to provide for his pregnant wife (ZaSu Pitts). As their family grows and grows, Spangler becomes more and more successful in his chosen profession, eventually putting enough money together to buy his own restaurant. The now-prosperous Spangler begins playing the filed with other women, including temptress Gretta (Ruth Chatterton). Upon learning about her husband's infidelities, Mother Spangler goes into a catatonic shock, which eventually leads to her death. With no "guiding force" at home, Spangler embarks upon a life of crime as a Prohibition bootlegger. The sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons at last when Spangler's beloved son Tom (Barry Norton) is blinded after drinking some of his dad's bootleg hootch. Later on, Spangler is thrown in jail, prompting the far-from-faithful Gretta to walk out on him. After serving his term, Spangler starts life all over again from the bottom as a waiter. An unhappy ending is averted when Spangler is tearfully reunited with son Tom, whose sight has been restored. Outside of a bizarre sequence in which Emil Jannings sings in a whiskey baritone, Sins of the Fathers was distinguished by the presence of Ruth Chatterton, whose first film this was.
by Hal Erickson synopsis