Sorrell and Son
- 1h 40min
Stephen Sorrell, a decorated war hero, raises his son Kit alone after Kit's mother deserts husband and child in the boy's infancy. Sorrell loses a promising job offer and is forced to take w... Read allStephen Sorrell, a decorated war hero, raises his son Kit alone after Kit's mother deserts husband and child in the boy's infancy. Sorrell loses a promising job offer and is forced to take work as a menial. Both his dignity and his health are damaged as he suffers under the exhau... Read allStephen Sorrell, a decorated war hero, raises his son Kit alone after Kit's mother deserts husband and child in the boy's infancy. Sorrell loses a promising job offer and is forced to take work as a menial. Both his dignity and his health are damaged as he suffers under the exhausting labor and harsh treatment he receives as a hotel porter. But Sorrell thrives in the ... Read all
'Sorrell and Son' was once an extremely popular novel by someone who rejoiced in the name Warwick (pronounced 'Warrick') Deeping, but the book is now exceedingly out of fashion. This 1927 movie was, in its day, the film version of a recent best-seller. The cast are excellent, notably Lionel Belmore, Louis Wolheim, Nils Asther and Mary Nolan.
The central role is played by H.B. Warner. In my reviews of several other films, I've made some very unfavourable comments about Warner's acting ability. My only real gripe against Warner is that, on a consistent basis, he utterly fails to convince me that he is romantically or sexually interested in a woman ... yet he is often cast in roles which require him to convey precisely that passion. Here, in 'Sorrell and Son', Warner is less handicapped than usual by that inadequacy. His character's wild-oats days are firmly in the backstory.
Warner plays the front half of the film's title role: Stephen Sorrell, who was decorated for valour in the Great War and is now trying to raise his son Christopher, whom he loves dearly. In an early scene, father and son exchange a vow that they will have no secrets from each other. As Christopher matures, his doting father quietly makes tremendous sacrifices for his son's education. Eventually, Christopher Sorrell graduates medical school, and becomes a doctor.
The narrative is rather muddled, branching off into several subplots that lead nowhere in particular. I suspect that director Herbert Brenon and his screenwriter Elizabeth Meehan were intimidated by the extreme popularity of Deeping's novel, and were reluctant to prune the story for fear that Deeping's readers would complain. The one subplot that was truly relevant here was the one raising the issue of medical euthanasia. Sadly, the film drops the ball on this ethical question. But I seem to recall that Deeping's novel was blurry on this point too. (I tried to read 'Sorrell and Son' once, about 35 years ago, and gave it up as a bad job.)
Brenon was not a good choice for this material, which probably would have been better directed by Edmund Goulding or Frank Lloyd. Brenon did his best work in fantasy films and melodramas in locales slightly removed from reality, such as the circus. 'Sorrell and Son' is a prosaic, workaday story about realistic people, and that's just not the sort of story suited to Brenon's talents.
I was eager to see 'Sorrell and Son' because it was photographed by the great cameraman James Wong Howe. Sadly, the print screened at Cinecon (with one reel missing) was struck from a nitrate positive that had seriously deteriorated, and it was often quite difficult for me to suss out the visual compositions. Some of the exteriors appear to have been filmed in southern England.
Despite the deterioration of the print, several actors' performances came through very impressively. Nils Asther gives possibly his career-best performance as Sorrell's son in young manhood. I wish I could be as enthusiastic for the twee child actor who plays Christopher Sorrell as a boy. Louis Wolheim is good in a supporting role, but seems to be in the wrong film: I kept expecting him to strip off his shirt, grab a stoker's shovel, and head belowdecks for the boiler room.
By far, though, the best performance on offer here is given by H.B. Warner. He expertly conveys his love for his son. Warner is quite convincing here as an embittered war hero who was traumatised by his ordeal in the trenches. Just five years after starring in 'Sorrell and Son', Warner would appear in 'Tom Brown of Culver' playing a very similar role -- a hero of the Great War -- except that, in the latter film, Warner's hero turns out to be a coward who deserted under fire. In that movie, H.B. Warner overacted shamelessly as a phony hero. In 'Sorrell and Son', cast as a genuine military hero, the very un-macho Warner is quietly believable, and he brings great authority to this role. The vehicle suits Warner splendidly, and he again played Stephen Sorrell in a low-budget British production in 1933.
Due to the extremely poor condition of the print which I viewed (and the absence of its last reel), I shan't rate this film. But I will say that H.B. Warner's performance in this drama easily makes up for the bad performances he's given elsewhere.
- F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
- Nov 2, 2005