All My Sons (1948)

Genres - Drama, Romance  |   Sub-Genres - Family Drama, War Drama  |   Run Time - 94 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Michael Costello

It's unfortunate that Irving G. Reis, rather than Elia Kazan, who had directed the play on Broadway, was chosen to film Arthur Miller's award-winning social drama. Certainly the latter would have improved on the film's plodding visual qualities, and goosed some of the performances. The Ibsenite theme of family and community tarnished by a corrupt defense contractor was probably more deeply unsettling to an audience in the triumphal post-WWII period than it now seems, and the patches of Odets-like rhetoric that Miller would strip from his mature style can sound like so much hot air, but overall, the writing that established the playwright's reputation has an enduring resonance. Edward G. Robinson dominates the film as the robust, back-slapping contractor, who has almost convinced himself that he's done nothing wrong, when his imprisoned partner's son and daughter come to visit. In one of these early, seemingly innocuous scenes, Miller hints that Robinson's neighbors are aware that he's put something over on the legal system and admire him all the more for it, a surprisingly subversive bit of foreshadowing for the time. But when the veteran actor is offscreen the film seems lifeless, and the earnest scenes between Burt Lancaster, as the frustrated, conscience-stricken son, and Louisa Horton as his lover, seem particularly dated. In its big moments, though, the film delivers, and Robinson's anguished recognition of his guilt can stand with the best work of his career. Miller's insight into the destructively delusional aspect of the desire for a competitive edge is as pointed as ever.