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In 1907, the Stoddard family anxiously awaits the arrival of their new European governess, Emilie Gallatin (Ingrid Bergman). Emilie and her four charges--Jack, David, Chris and Phillip Stoddard--share an instant rapport. As the year unfolds, the fortunes of Adam Stoddard (Warner Baxter), the head of the house and a prominent stockbroker, begin to fall as the stock market plunges. Added to this despair is the sudden illness and death of wife Molly (Fay Wray). Before she dies, Molly extracts a promise from Emilie to take care of her boys. After the stock market plummets, Adam is forced to sell Stonehenge, send his sons away to school and Emilie back home to Europe. As Emilie bids the family a tearful farewell, Adam promises to send for her as soon as his fortunes improve. The advent of World War I stimulates the economy and Stoddard's fortunes. After buying back Stonehenge, Adam sends for Emilie, who returns to find her four charges fully grown and enlisted in the military, with surprises in tow. David arrives newly married to Hester (Susan Hayward). Knowing that he is to be shipped overseas soon, David, a fighter pilot, asks that Hester be allowed to move in with his family. Desiring to be the only woman in the household, Hester takes an immediate dislike towards Emilie. After David, Phillip and Chris are assigned overseas, Hester becomes bored and lonely and begins to drink ("19 is as 19 does," one character says of Hester's immaturity). When Jack unexpectedly comes home for a two-day leave, he and Hester consume a bottle of scotch together, and then consummate a moment of lust, which Emilie silently witnesses. But Hester's poisonous influence doesn't end there, prompting Emilie to make drastic decisions in order to fulfill her promise to Molly and to protect Adam, the man she secretly loves.
Adam Had Four Sons (1941) is based on the novel Legacy by Charles Bonner. The adaptation is a pleasant family melodrama that marked the debut of former radio announcer Robert Sherwood as a film producer. According to the Variety review, Sherwood bought the rights to Bonner's novel and it remained a pet project of his until the opportunity to orchestrate a production deal with Columbia Studios.
Ingrid Bergman, making only her second American film, was borrowed from David O. Selznick Productions to appear in the film. Director Gregory Ratoff also directed Bergman's first American film, a Selznick picture entitled Intermezzo (1939). When she wasn't memorizing her lines, she was working closely with Ruth Roberts, her dialogue coach, on how to speak English. Bergman's own feelings about the overwrought melodrama were ambivalent. Writing about Adam Had Four Sons in her autobiography, Bergman said, "At last something my teeth could bite into, but it was not such a good apple. We had a script to work with but the dialogue was made up minute by minute as we went along, and they had no idea how to end the picture. Ruth Roberts was an enormous help, and great affection for the crazy Gregory Ratoff, so it all left a very pleasant souvenir."
Bergman also added that "It wasn't a very good picture. But as long as a part makes sense, and the character is a human being, I will try because I can't do artificial people on the screen. Nothing done with such a character can make it real to audiences." With Ratoff's permission, Bergman introduced changes to her character that turned Emilie from a cardboard saint to a humanized woman, such as adding the scenes in which she did gymnastics and played basketball with the boys. Bergman would humanize her Sister Benedict in The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) with some similar athletic character development.
Bergman wasn't alone in identifying this reality as being an important aspect of her work. "Somehow," said the San Francisco News, "you believe in her." Co-star Fay Wray praised Bergman. "She seemed not to be an actress, but a reality...Ingrid had a quality that was spiritual and physical at the same time. She seemed real, not like she was performing at all."
Producer: Gordon Griffith, Robert E. Sherwood
Director: Gregory Ratoff
Screenplay: Michael Blankfort, William Hurlbut, Charles Bonner (novel)
Cinematography: J. Peverell Marley
Film Editing: Francis D. Lyon
Art Direction: Rudolph Sternad
Music: W. Franke Harling
Cast: Ingrid Bergman (Emilie Gallatin), Warner Baxter (Adam Stoddard), Susan Hayward (Hester Stoddard), Fay Wray (Molly Stoddard), Richard Denning (Jack Stoddard), Johnny Downs (David Stoddard).
by Scott McGee