“My Son John”: A Cold War Tale

My Son JohnMy Son John” is very much a product of its time (1952). Its subject?  A young man (played by Robert Walker) goes to work in Washington and comes home to visit his small-town, religious parents with some new, disturbing ideas that make his parents suspicious.

If you know your history, you’ll recall that a certain Wisconsin Senator was at this time engaged in a hunt for those holding Communist party sympathies and/or membership inside the federal government. He became very zealous about this, and was eventually stopped in his pursuit. This movie was made at the height of McCarthy’s efforts, and it may elicit both laughs and serious thought. It’s only natural, in my opinion, that movies from another era, especially when they are trying to convey serious ideas, may sometimes come off as corny or obvious.

On the other hand, this viewer looked at other aspects of the movie, and found much to take pleasure in. To begin with, there’s the acting of Dean Jagger and Helen Hayes as the parents—they seem to have achieved a wonderful naturalness in their interactions, all done with the backdrop of location shooting in Virginia (as opposed to the more common studio-bound tendency of that time).  Second, though the movie takes a very obvious stand in its politics, it also shows Jagger’s character as a bit of a hothead, and over-sensitive in his reactions to his son.  And speaking of the son, Robert Walker (you might remember him from Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train) does a marvelous job as a sort of prodigal who wastes no time showing his condescension toward those who love him. Finally, the movie works as a window into the thinking of the time, a time when both real and imagined enemies were lurking about, when the country was trying to forget a brutal World War II and yet having to send its children off to Korea for more bloodshed and sacrifice.  Altogether, well worth watching!


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Written by David


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