Four Sons (1940)

88 mins | Drama | 14 June 1940

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HISTORY

According to a 20 Feb 1940 HR news item, both Maria Ouspenskaya and Jane Darwell were under consideration for the role of "Frau Freida Bern." According to story conference notes contained in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, screenplay writer John Howard Lawson wrote the part with Ouspenskaya in mind, although producer Darryl Zanuck favored Darwell for the role. Zanuck also suggested that Ray Milland be considered for the role of "Karl Bern," and Richard Greene be considered for that of "Chris Bern." According to publicity for the film, Zanuck signed Alan Curtis to a long-term contract after early phases of the shooting were completed. Curtis had been borrowed from M-G-M. According to a Twentieth Century-Fox publicity release, Gregory Ratoff and Sidney Lanfield assisted director Archie Mayo with the audition screen tests. Ratoff directed the test of his wife, European stage actress Eugenie Leontovich, who made her screen acting debut in Four Sons . According to HR news items, Nancy Kelly was originally signed for the role of "Anna," but was replaced by Mary Beth Hughes when she was loaned to Universal for Private Affairs (see below), and Ernest Palmer had been assigned to photograph the picture. According to the publicity release and a NYT article, this was the last film made by "Hollywood's private army," a group of mostly World War I veterans led by ex-Army sergeant Carl Voss. Voss trained and drilled the men to act as extras, and they made their first appearance in the 1925 M-G-M film The Big Parade . Voss was ... More Less

According to a 20 Feb 1940 HR news item, both Maria Ouspenskaya and Jane Darwell were under consideration for the role of "Frau Freida Bern." According to story conference notes contained in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, screenplay writer John Howard Lawson wrote the part with Ouspenskaya in mind, although producer Darryl Zanuck favored Darwell for the role. Zanuck also suggested that Ray Milland be considered for the role of "Karl Bern," and Richard Greene be considered for that of "Chris Bern." According to publicity for the film, Zanuck signed Alan Curtis to a long-term contract after early phases of the shooting were completed. Curtis had been borrowed from M-G-M. According to a Twentieth Century-Fox publicity release, Gregory Ratoff and Sidney Lanfield assisted director Archie Mayo with the audition screen tests. Ratoff directed the test of his wife, European stage actress Eugenie Leontovich, who made her screen acting debut in Four Sons . According to HR news items, Nancy Kelly was originally signed for the role of "Anna," but was replaced by Mary Beth Hughes when she was loaned to Universal for Private Affairs (see below), and Ernest Palmer had been assigned to photograph the picture. According to the publicity release and a NYT article, this was the last film made by "Hollywood's private army," a group of mostly World War I veterans led by ex-Army sergeant Carl Voss. Voss trained and drilled the men to act as extras, and they made their first appearance in the 1925 M-G-M film The Big Parade . Voss was forced to disband the group because of new Screen Actors Guild regulations forbidding any payments by extras to agents. They had appeared in 232 filmed battles. Fox first filmed I. A. R. Wylie's story in 1928. John Ford directed the picture, which was also entitled Four Sons , and it starred James Hall and Margaret Mann (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30 ; F2.1941). More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
8 Jun 1940.
---
Daily Variety
28 May 40
p. 3.
Film Daily
4 Jun 40
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Feb 40
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Mar 40
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Mar 40
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Mar 40
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Mar 40
p. 1, 9
Hollywood Reporter
26 Mar 40
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Apr 40
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Apr 40
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
11 May 40
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
28 May 40
p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily
31 May 1940.
---
Motion Picture Herald
1 Jun 40
p. 40.
New York Times
2 Jun 1940.
---
New York Times
8 Jun 40
p. 18.
Variety
29 Apr 40
p. 14.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Orig scr, Orig scr
Addl dial
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus dir
PRODUCTION MISC
Publicity dir
STAND INS
Stand-in for Eugenie Leontovich
SOURCES
LITERARY
Suggested by the short story "Grandmother Bernle Learns Her Letter" by I. A. R. Wylie in The Saturday Evening Post (11 Sep 1926).
DETAILS
Release Date:
14 June 1940
Production Date:
1 April--10 May 1940
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
14 June 1940
Copyright Number:
LP9771
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
88
Length(in feet):
7,957
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
PCA No:
6233
SYNOPSIS

In 1936, in the village of Czechoslovakian Kolna near the German border, Frau Freida Bern lovingly cares for her sons, Chris, Karl, Fritz and Joseph. The boys' father was killed in World War I when he was forced to fight for Germany, and Frau Bern is delighted that Joseph is carrying on his father's dream of going to America. Frau Bern gives the money she has saved to Joseph for the journey, and the other boys unselfishly wish him well and tell him to send for them. Meanwhile, Chris, who is very patriotic, argues with Karl, who has joined a German "social club" and supports Germany. The rift between the brothers grows deeper when Karl and Anna, Chris's longtime girl friend, discover that they are passionately in love. Frau Bern makes peace between the brothers, and Chris puts aside his feelings to celebrate at Anna and Karl's wedding. At the reception, however, Karl is called to duty by his German friends, who are seeking to kill one of their captured spies before he talks. Anna is crushed to discover that her bridegroom has disappeared on their wedding night, but vows to stand by him and tends to his injuries when he returns home after accomplishing his mission. As time passes, Anna presents Karl with a son, and Joseph gets a good job in New York. One day, Karl is visited by Nazi officers, who wish for him to formally enlist in the Army. Chris and Karl almost come to blows after Chris pulls a gun on the men, but once again their mother urges them to forego their violence. ... +


In 1936, in the village of Czechoslovakian Kolna near the German border, Frau Freida Bern lovingly cares for her sons, Chris, Karl, Fritz and Joseph. The boys' father was killed in World War I when he was forced to fight for Germany, and Frau Bern is delighted that Joseph is carrying on his father's dream of going to America. Frau Bern gives the money she has saved to Joseph for the journey, and the other boys unselfishly wish him well and tell him to send for them. Meanwhile, Chris, who is very patriotic, argues with Karl, who has joined a German "social club" and supports Germany. The rift between the brothers grows deeper when Karl and Anna, Chris's longtime girl friend, discover that they are passionately in love. Frau Bern makes peace between the brothers, and Chris puts aside his feelings to celebrate at Anna and Karl's wedding. At the reception, however, Karl is called to duty by his German friends, who are seeking to kill one of their captured spies before he talks. Anna is crushed to discover that her bridegroom has disappeared on their wedding night, but vows to stand by him and tends to his injuries when he returns home after accomplishing his mission. As time passes, Anna presents Karl with a son, and Joseph gets a good job in New York. One day, Karl is visited by Nazi officers, who wish for him to formally enlist in the Army. Chris and Karl almost come to blows after Chris pulls a gun on the men, but once again their mother urges them to forego their violence. Frau Bern tries to convince Karl that the Nazis are wrong, but he refuses to listen, and later, when the Czechs mobilize against the Nazis, Karl enlists as a Nazi officer, while Chris marches with the Czech Army. The Czechs are forced to cede Sudetenland to the Nazis in order to avoid war, and Chris bitterly decries traitors like Karl, who deserted the Czech Army. Chris and Karl return home, and after Chris discovers from Karl that the Nazis have a list of local citizens who are to be murdered so that they do not cause trouble, he rushes out to warn them. He is too late to save the burgomaster, whom he finds dead in his home, and he is then chased and wounded by Nazi soldiers. While Chris is hiding in the swamp, he sees and shoots a Nazi soldier who is searching for him. Chris makes it back home, where Frau Bern hides him before the Nazis find him. The soldiers, led by former family friend Max Sturm, arrive and instead of looking for Chris, who they do not know is the one who shot the soldier, they bring Karl, who has been badly wounded. Frau Bern realizes that Chris accidentally shot his own brother, but nonetheless tries to force Anna to keep quiet after Karl dies. Anna spitefully denounces Chris, and he is killed when the Nazis find him. Soon after, Joseph sends money for his mother and Fritz to come to America, but it is too late, for Fritz is drafted into the German Army. The grieving mother says goodbye to her youngest son, and soon he is killed in Warsaw. Frau Bern is presented with the Iron Cross for Fritz's bravery, and she bitterly comments that the first time she was presented with the medal was when her husband was killed. After Frau Bern sees a troop of young boys learning to march, she pleads with Anna to take Karl, Jr. to America. Anna finally admits that the war is senseless, and the two women go with the child to the train station. There they are bid farewell by Joseph's former schoolteacher, Herr Kapek, who has just been released from a concentration camp, and he assures them that "barbed wire cannot hold the spirit of man." Frau Bern, Anna and Karl, Jr. board the train, and begin the journey to a new life of freedom. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.