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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Universal Wants To Be A Class Act


Broadway Blisterer All My Sons (1948) Comes To The Screen ... and DVD

There was clean-up after the war of those who'd exploited the conflict for personal gain. Home front profiteers were regarded lower than the enemy, and headlines shouted to accompany of each one brought to earth. A first play to address the issue was also the maker of Arthur Miller's career. All My Sons, staged on Broadway in 1947 and directed by Elia Kazan, ran over a year and won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Ed Begley played the machine shop owner who ships defective cylinders that result in death for allied flyers, Arthur Kennedy his devoted son who discovers truth and forces Dad to confront responsibility. Playwright Miller's dialogue attacked go-getter businessmen and, by extension, capitalism itself. The FBI got interested and kept watch on Universal's screen adapt after that company paid an alleged (Film Daily) $200K against percentage for screen rights to the drama. All My Sons is mostly forgotten now, but was big cheese then, with prestige to rinse off U's rep for cheap westerns, serials, and monster pics. They were after carriage trade now, most of 1948's schedule decided A's, of which All My Sons would be a most ambitious offering.


What revives interest in All My Sons is Universal Vault's just-out DVD, a first-rate transfer of a film too long out of circulation. Father/son opponents are Edward G. Robinson and Burt Lancaster, with some of Broadway's cast kept on in support. Kazan would have enhanced in directing capacity, but he signed for Gentleman's Agreement instead, thus Irving Reis at helm. We move slowly, with Lancaster, toward realization of the father's guilt, All My Sons the movie focused more on narrow personal issue rather than social ills that encourage such a crime. Robinson later confessed that he was so pleased with the role as to overdo it at times, so was thankful to director Reis for occasionally reining him in. Lancaster had gotten started with, and kept doing, crime thrillers, so this was change-of-pace necessary to demonstrate versatility. Some of location was shot at Santa Rosa, Calif., Shadow Of A Doubt country, so there is link, if subliminal, to Hitchcock's account of domestic wrongs committed in wartime. Universal promised they'd not pull a punch, and as to spine of the story, kept faith with play origin, even as it was rewritten for the screen by also-producing Chester Erskine, who dropped Miller's politics and went for a tight 94 minute telling.

Writer/Producer Chester Erskine Poses with Cast Members
Louisa Horton, Edward G. Robinson, and Burt Lancaster

Erskine had been a triple-threat man (writer, producer, director) and was riding high at U as result of The Egg and I, a hit to take onus off fancy duds coming off company line that year. For adapting as well as producing All My Sons for the screen, he'd have much creative control, Erskine of opinion that "there has been a tendency to credit the director at the expense of the writer, and this I believe to be an injustice in many cases" (a song still sung loudly today). Universal initially had notion to exhibit All My Sons on roadshow basis, but the format had gone down in flames for several high-profile pics at other companies. A postwar public was wary of $1.25 scale for shows not worth that as entertainment. Backing off a hard-ticket policy was Green Dolphin Street, Captain From Castile, and Unconquered, none considered "really extraordinary," said Film Bulletin, so how to justify advanced pricing? All My Sons would have to open at Broadway's Criterion (ad at top) on grind basis (continuous shows beginning 9 AM) and hope mixed reviews (from "intense" and "enthralling" to "fabricated" and "static") wouldn't scare off trade. As part of Universal's "high-budget, diversified" program for 1948, All My Sons ended up a B.O. disappointment, according to trades. It would, along with others that fizzled, inspire Universal to shift production gears within a year to westerns, period actioners, and rube comedies that could be made cheaper, and gross more reliably.

3 Comments:

Blogger Kevin K. said...

If Sammy Kaye, Percy Faith and Lou Little are onboard, well that's all the praise you need!

1:22 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

So who was Louisa Horton? She made her debut in this and then... IMDB says straight to TV and not another feature for four years.

Admittedly, that picture of her with Lancaster makes her look like Irving Thalberg in a wig-- she's more attractive in the unposed casual shot.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Oh, and i just noticed that one of the people endorsing this play by Marilyn Monroe Husband #3 is none other than Joltin' Joe, Marilyn Monroe Husband #2!

10:09 AM  

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