Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Warner Loves Fay (and Ingrid)

Several months ago, we discussed a film with Warner Baxter, and decided we wanted to view another of his movies.  This week, we watched Adam Had Four Sons (1941), with Baxter as Adam Stoddard, Fay Wray as his wife Molly, and Ingrid Bergman as their governess, Emilie Gallatin. The action opens with the arrival of Emilie, a young woman from Europe, who is immediately accepted - and adored - by her four young charges, Jack (who will grow up to be Richard Denning), David (Johnny Downs), Chris (Robert Shaw) and Phillip (Charles Lind).  The story follows the hardships of this good family, and the woman who becomes an intrinsic part of it, through a stock market crash, the First World War, and interpersonal catastrophes.  Through it all, Adam, his four sons, and Emilie remain true to each other, despite the attempts of the world to break them apart.

The film emphasizes the strength of this family.  Despite everything, the brothers, their father, and even the adopted family member, Emilie, remain loyal to one another.  Torn apart by the world's events, they cope and regroup.  Even when one seemingly insurmountable outside force - Jack's wife, Hester, played with relish by Susan Hayward - tries to fracture the brothers, she cannot succeed.  It is interesting that their home is named Stonehenge,  symbolizing the durability and longevity of those that abide in the home. 

The film features several strong women characters.  Fay Wray's Molly is the heart of the family.  Meeting her, we understand WHY the boys are so good and loyal.  She is the epitome of the good wife and mother.  Yet, she is not cloying or ridiculous.  Ingrid Bergman's Emilie, the adopted mother, begins as a naive girl and grows into a powerful woman.  She comes to the family as an employee, is forced to leave because of Adam's sudden impoverishment, but returns, not as an employee, but as substitute for the mother the boys have lost.  This was only Bergman's fourth film in the United States, but you can already see her skills.  Cousin Phillipa (Helen Westley) is the traditional cagey old lady. She knows more than she says, hides her wisdom behind her relish for a good, stiff drink, but works for the good of her nephews.  Vance (played by June Lockhart) is another innocent.  The childhood sweetheart of Phillip, she does not waver in her love, even when Phillip is severely injured.  And then there is Hester.
Susan Hayward's Hester is quite the conniver.  She enters the story as the wife of David, but the audience knows immediately that she is up to no good.  Of course, while Emilie and Cousin Phillipa are also well aware that she is merely an opportunistic schemer, it takes the men a bit longer to catch on.  Hayward truly makes the part her own; she uses sly glances, and the most subtle of movements to convey who Hester really is beneath all the artifice, she makes you want to slap her silly!

Given the title, one would think this is a film about five men.  But, really, it isn't.  It is about a family, and the women in the family that help the men to remain true to themselves. Here, we see Emilie's return and the introduction of Hester:

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