All My Sons, Arthur Miller's first hit play, can be seen as a dry run for the later and more famous Death of a Salesman. In both we find a father with a shameful secret, a disillusioned son, a wife trying to hold a family together, and Miller's sharp criticism of The American Dream. Despite the similarities, All My Sons is a fine play in its own right and won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play of 1947, beating out Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh. The story is centered on one small town family whose father, a manufacturer, was charged with knowingly shipping defective airplane parts which resulted in the death of 21 pilots during World War II. Having called out sick the day in question, he was eventually exonerated while his partner was found guilty and sent to prison. But his past still haunts him and everybody around him.
The film version is not completely faithful to the play, and was simplified for the 1948 movie-going public. Yet it remains a powerful movie thanks to the strength of the story and two magnificent stars - the up and coming Burt Lancaster and the veteran character actor Edward G. Robinson. Fans of the play may be annoyed at the restructuring and opening up of Miller's material, in particular, the "reveal" of Robinson's secret being shown in a long flashback. Yet such "dumbing down" was hardly a crime in those years, and, despite some melodrama, the film captures the spirit of Miller's drama and should be considered an above-average example of a film adapted from a play. Burt Lancaster was an obvious star on the rise and is very good in the part of the son, but, as usual, it is Edward G. Robinson who walks away with the film through the sheer force and energy of his performance.
For those interested in the play, track down the much more faithful 1986 television production starring James Whitmore. - JBEdward G. Robinson The Stuff You Gotta Watch Home Page