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  My Son John You Can Justify Anything With God On Your Side
Year: 1952
Director: Leo McCarey
Stars: Helen Hayes, Van Heflin, Dean Jagger, Robert Walker, Minor Watson, Frank McHugh, Richard Jaeckel, James Young
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  3 (from 1 vote)
Review: Lucille Jefferson (Helen Hayes) is a typical American mother, proud of her three sons. Two of them are set to leave for the Korean War, and she and her Godfearing husband Dan (Dean Jagger) are keen to give them a good send-off, so the Sunday before their departure the couple arrange a dinner after church, and invite their eldest son John (Robert Walker) as well. Alas, John is tied up with his job in Washington, something to do with the Government, and telephones to put in his apologies; his mother understands, but his father is less than impressed, despite putting on a brave face for the issue. But John always did go his own way, Lucille recognises that, there's nothing wrong... is there?

The Hollywood anti-Communist witch hunts were responsible for quite a few talents losing their jobs, completely unfairly as the paranoia about the Soviet Union and "Red China" began to grip, but Hollywood's reaction was not as clear cut in the movies it produced. One thing was for sure, however, and that was the anti-Communist propaganda pictures they churned out were not a patch on the anti-Nazi efforts of the previous decade, possibly because the powers that be which insisted on them being made were now closer to the extreme right. Although there was plenty of room for middle ground, they did not seem to perceive that liberalism was not equivalent to Communism.

Try telling that to the makers of My Son John, a creative disaster whichever way you sliced it, though some of that was out of their hands. With Walker fresh from one of the great villainous turns of the nineteen-fifties in Alfred Hitchcock's thriller Strangers on a Train, it seemed his career was on an upturn at last after some deep psychological problems and a well-publicised drinking trouble that saw him hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. His parents' separation as a child had left him mentally scarred, and when his wife Jennifer Jones, also a star, split up with him because superproducer David O. Selznick was obsessed with her, it reopened some damaging wounds.

Thus, one night in 1951, Walker had a relapse just as he was about to start reshoots on My Son John and the doctor who was called gave him pills to calm him down. They reacted badly with the alcohol and tragically, the much put-upon actor died, leaving a lot of unfulfilled promise and this film without a proper ending. Director Leo McCarey scrabbled to get something useable out of what he had and ended up with this barely hanging together mishmash littered with footage repurposed from other scenes, even other films, and it looked it. Watching this you will be painfully aware where the doubles and unrelated clips of Walker (some of it reversed) were implemented to patch up a storyline that had already been wild and woolly in the first place, resulting in an utter fiasco.

You would have to be a seething Reds under the bed exponent to get any enjoyment out of My Son John as it stands now, since very little of it made sense except as some kind of fever dream of the Lucille character, whose status as a perfect American mother is sorely tested (and indeed blamed) by the revelation that her liberal son John has joined the Dark Side. Yes, he's a Communist, for reasons that never become apparent, and the machinations of Van Heflin as the FBI agent tailing him are as sinister as anything John gets up to - whatever that was. His chief crime seems to be that he is about to deliver a speech to graduating students that could transform them all into Commies (somehow), as if his words are a ticking time bomb, and the way he is stopped is absolutely laughable. It was saddening to see McCarey, who had directed The Marx Brothers in the ultimate anti-political comedy Duck Soup, so blinded with dogmatic hatred that he concocted this farrago, but the terror both ideological extremes engendered caught a lot of people in its crossfire. This certainly was not going to change any minds about The American Way. Music by Robert Emmett Dolan.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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