skip navigation
The Method And the Movies: Method Acting In Hollywood
Remind Me
,All My Sons

All My Sons

Although the biting political statements of Arthur Miller's stage drama All My Sons were drastically toned down in adapting it to the screen, the 1948 film version still delivers a powerful punch with its story of a family torn apart by the realization of the father's war profiteering, an act that directly resulted in the deaths of many young soldiers and, in a more indirect way, the death of his own son. Miller's play, which ran on Broadway for 328 performances for most of 1947, won Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Direction (Elia Kazan) as well as the New York Critics Circle Award. It starred Ed Begley as Joe Keller, the corrupt manufacturer of vital military parts, and Arthur Kennedy as his embittered surviving son. It was brought to the screen with veteran actor Edward G. Robinson as Keller and, as his son, Burt Lancaster, who in two short years since his film debut in The Killers (1946) had already established himself as a forceful dramatic presence.

The cast wasn't all that changed in the adaptation. Miller's play used the personal family tragedy as an indictment of capitalism, insisting that a socio-economic structure that could tolerate such greed and corruption was seriously flawed. Knowing this, the FBI and the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, which had already begun its purge of those they considered Hollywood communists and sympathizers, watched the production very closely. In the middle of filming during the fall of 1947, an informant supplied the FBI with the movie's script.

Producer/screenwriter Chester Erskine had already shifted the focus of Miller's story away from criticisms of the American system to a narrower drama about the greed of one solitary man. Nevertheless, the FBI, piggybacking on an inflammatory Newsweek article stating the politically liberal Robinson was "persistently found in Communist fronts," issued an internal report that found All My Sons's "open attack" on the family to be "sickening" and blatantly collectivist, according to Lancaster biographer Kate Buford. Around the same time, a group of film professionals calling themselves the Committee for the First Amendment gathered more than 300 signatures on a petition printed in the Hollywood Reporter labeling the HUAC hearings "morally wrong" and "contrary to the basic principles of our democracy." It was signed by Lancaster, Robinson and many of the cast and crew of All My Sons.

When the picture was released, New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther, in a generally glowing review, noted the alterations made between the stage and screen version by Erskine, operating, Crowther noted, "no doubt, on higher instructions." The New Republic, then still a left-leaning publication, said that the director, Irving Reis, and the studio (Universal) deserved "a citation for unusual heroism under fire" for producing and distributing the picture "in the present state of political weather."

All My Sons falls roughly in the middle of Russell Metty's long and distinguished career as one of Hollywood's most outstanding cinematographers. It came nearly a dozen years after his work on Howard Hawks' classic screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby (1938) and twelve years before his Oscar®-winning cinematography on Spartacus (1960). He brought to this production his mastery of black-and-white light and shadow, which he had just used so effectively in Orson Welles' The Stranger (1946). Later in his career, he provided the stunning Technicolor look for Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Written on the Wind (1956) before returning to the stark chiaroscuro of Touch of Evil (1958), his second collaboration with Welles.

All My Sons is the first Arthur Miller work to be made into a movie. It was remade for TV in 1955 and again in 1986 starring James Whitmore and Aidan Quinn in the Robinson and Lancaster roles-a version far more faithful to the tone and intent of the original. Miller's plays The Crucible, Death of a Salesman, and The Prize have also been made into feature films and television dramas numerous times, and he also wrote scripts directly for the screen, most notably The Misfits (1961), which starred Miller's wife, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, and Montgomery Clift.

Director: Irving Reis
Producer: Chester Erskine
Screenplay: Chester Erskine, based on the play by Arthur Miller
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Editing: Ralph Dawson
Art Direction: Hilyard Brown, Bernard Herzbrun
Original Music: Leith Stevens
Cast: Edward G. Robinson (Joe Keller), Burt Lancaster (Chris Keller), Mady Christians (Kate Keller), Louisa Horton (Ann Deever), Howard Duff (George Deever).

by Rob Nixon



Also Playing on TCM

Also playing
Fairytale Theater - 5/14
5 Movies

For the child in all of us, TCM presents a charming series of fairy tale-related stories filmed over three decades. Our lineup...more

TCM Shopping
  • Five Graves to Cairo
  • The wartime espionage thriller FIVE GRAVES TO... more info
  • $18.36
  • Regularly $19.98
  • Add to cart
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice
  • Adapted forom James M. Cain's story, the film... more info
  • $14.25
  • Regularly $19.98
  • Add to cart
  • D.O.A.
  • Frank Bigelow, told he's been poisoned and... more info
  • $10.95
  • Regularly $14.99
  • Add to cart