Sunday, December 25, 2016

Adam Had Four Sons

Yesterday I watched Adam Had Four Sons off the eight-movie Mill Creek box set that I mentioned earlier this year when I blogged about Angels Over Broadway. (I really got the set for the Judy Holliday movies in it, The Marrying Kind and Solid Gold Cadillac.) Since the DVD set is currently selling on both the TCM Shop and Amazon for under six bucks, I have no qualms about mentioning even any crappy movies on the set. After all, you're getting at least a couple you'll like for that tiny price.

Adam Stoddard (Warner Baxter) is a stockbroker in 1907 living with his wife Molly (Fay Wray) and his four sons. Into this they bring a governess for the sons, lovely Emilie Gallatin (Ingrid Bergman). Emilie arrives and feels as though she's belonged there her whole life, and the sons take right too her. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes the family. First, Molly dies, and then a stock market panic hits, wiping Adam out. Adam's cousin Philippa (Helen Westley) is able to send the three oldest sons off to boarding school, but the fourth one has to move into a tiny apartment with Dad, and there's no room or money for a governess. Dad promises to bring Emilie back, however.

Fast forward several years. Dad is back on his feet, and does indeed bring Emilie back. Now, this makes no logical sense, since the kids are all grown up and no longer need a governess. But it's also obvious that Adam has had an emotional bond bordering on love for years based on the way Emilie helped the family through Molly's death. And Emilie feels something for Adam, despite how inappropriate all of this would be. If Emilie had been the head of all the servants, bringing her back would be one thing, but as a governess to four guys who still adore her platonically after all these years, you wonder how this got past the Production Code.

Thins are about to get a whole lot more interesting. It's World War I, and some of the sons have gone off to fight in the war effort, such as David (Johnny Downs). He was training in Canada since at the time he went of the US wasn't in the war yet, and while there he met Hester (Susan Hayward) and married her practically at first sight. Emilie sees through all this and just knows that Hester is a bad influence, and the one redeeming quality about Hester is that she's the only one who recognizes the inappropriate thoughts Adam and Emilie have but don't want to admit to. As for Hester's bad qualities, well, she hates the saintly Emilie, but worse, she's basically decided she's going to sleep her way through the family, taking up with brother Jack (Richard Denning). When Dad sees the silhouettes of Jack and Hester making out, he's loaded for bear. But wackily, Emilie intervenes so that Dad will believe Jack was with Emilie, not Hester. It's idiotic, but there you are.

And that's where I have huge problems. The actors all try their hardest, but the script is just so warped that nobody really rises above the material. Hayward probably comes off best, just because she's given the bad girl character, and that's something easier to sink one's teeth into. Helen Westley also does well in a supporting role as her character has plausible motivations. She also gets to have fun playing a quirky old woman who drinks gin straight and smokes cigars. The only thing they didn't do is dress her in tweed, but that may have been a step too far for the Production Code.

All in all, Adam Had Four Sons is a movie that's more worth watching to see where it goes wrong than for what it does well. But since it's on an ultra-cheap box set, dropping six bucks on it is no big deal.

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