Set during the early part of the twentieth century, Gregory Ratoff film Adam Had Four Sons constructs the history of a typical American family, held together by their father (WARNER BAXTER) and protective governess (INGRID BERGMAN), through financial crisis and the First World War.
Based on the Waltonesque premise that family bonds are unbreakable, the film begins in 1907 as the young Emilie Gallatin (Bergman) arrives from abroad to be the governess of four young boys of a wealthy American family, headed by Adam Stoddard (Baxter). But with the death of Stoddard’s wife and the collapse of his business, the family appears to be falling apart and Emilie has to return home.
But the war intervenes, this time for the good of the family, as the boys enlist and make careers in the services and Stoddard’s new business begins to prosper. Bergman is then restored to the household although, with the passing of time, and the growth of the four young boys, life has become more complicated.
One of the boys, David (JOHNNY DOWNS) hastily marries Hester (SUSAN HAYWARD) who is determined to upset the careful balance of the household created by Emilie by sleeping with her new husband’s brother. The gentle and affectionate Emilie takes it upon herself to protect the family and is finally rewarded with the love of the father.
This was Bergman’s first screen performance since Intermezzo the previous year, with Variety commenting, “Miss Bergman turns in a persuasive and sympathetic performance that indicates she could hit substantial box office rating with more frequent assignments” – if ever a truer word were spoken.
USA / Columbia / 81 minutes / 1941 black and white
Writer: William Harlbut and Michael Blankfort (from the novel Legacy by Charles Bonner / Cinematography: Peverell Marley / Music: W. Franke Harling / Producer: Robert Sherwood / Director: Gregory Ratoff
Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Warner Baxter, Susan Hayward, Fay Wray, Richard Denning, Johnny Downs, Robert Shaw, Charles Lind, Billy Ray