**** out of 5
"Got an appointment?"
"Yeah- for SEVEN YEARS!"
In this chilling family drama, Fate takes the form of Edward G Robinson, a powerful father figure, under the shadow of whose dark influence his 4 sons can't seem to escape, even after his death.
Joseph Mankiewicz directs with deliberation and exacting control of mood and structure, crafting a deep sense of oppressive atmosphere in the house where Robinson lives with his sons, this "house of strangers."
The sons are played by Ricard Conte, Efran Zimbalist Jr., Paul Valentine, and Luter Adler. Each has their own way of coping of responding to their father's overbearing and self-important ways. Zimbalist is eager-to-appease, and sublimates his own identity into his father's plans. Valentine is a boxer, who nonetheless cows to his father's commands, but harbors deeply violent emotions. Luter Adler is the oldest brother, resentful of his father's favoritism of Conte, the only one of the four who seems capable of going his own way.
But Conte, the central character of the tale, is the one who has the most challenging road to freedom.
His father has his life planned out just as the rest of the boys- he has a wife picked for him (Debra Paget), a corner office in the family bank out of which he can run his law practice, like a playhouse inside a family mansion, never truly his own man, despite all his claims to the contrary, including his daliaances with society girl Susan Hayward, who is really wants to be with.
When the family head faces a crisis, he turns to his sons to help him out, but only Conte is willing to stick his neck out. The other three brothers quickly leap at the chance to lop it off. He ends up in jail.
Like many other noir dramas, much of the tale is told in flashback, as Conte, released from jail, explores the old family house alone in the dark and recollects the histories that those shadowy halls have seen.
How will he respond to the traitorous actions of his brothers? Will he follow his father's footsteps of vendetta and eye-for-an-eye? That seems to be the key question in the film. Can we escape our past? Can the sons escape punishment for the sins of their fathers? Esther Minciotti, who, as the wife of Robinson's character, delivers one of the film's most potent performance despite her few lines of dialogue, offers one heartbreaking possible answer in those questions. "Once I have a husband. I give him four sons. Now I have nobody. No husband, and no sons." Only in the film's final frames does another possibility emerge.