Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Spencer Tracy
THE DEVIL AT 4 O'CLOCK (1961). Director: Mervyn LeRoy.

"I bet you were a sweet little altar boy." -- Father Doonan [Spencer Tracy].

"Weren't we all?" -- Harry [Frank Sinatra].

Three convicts -- Harry (Frank Sinatra), Marcel (Gregoire Aslan) and Charlie (Bernie Hamilton) -- on their way to a Tahitian prison, have to stop over on the island of Talua so their plane can drop off Father Perreau (Kerwin Mathews). Perreau is there to replace cantankerous, alcoholic Father Doonan (Spencer Tracy), who has angered the islanders by building a hospital for children with Hansen's disease (leprosy) in the mountains. When the island is threatened by earthquakes and an erupting volcano, Doonan takes the convicts with him to rescue the children and the hospital staff. From there they make a perilous journey down the mountain, past thickening lava flows, that not all of them will survive. The characters and situations are so interesting that it doesn't matter that the harrowing action doesn't occur until late in the movie, and the fine performances from most of the cast help as well. Columbia has put together such a first-rate remastered high-def DVD of this film that sometimes the FX seams [process work and matte paintings] show through, but there are still some stunning vistas. Unlike the more realistic hardened convicts you generally find in today's movies, Sinatra and company are men of some convenient strength and sensitivity. The piousness sometimes threatens to become cloying but never overwhelms the movie, and dissenting viewpoints are also presented. Tracy is superb, with fine support from Hamilton [who deserved a much bigger career], Aslan, Alexander Scourby as the governor, and Cathy Lewis as hospital worker Marguerite. Jean-Pierre Aumont and Tom Middleton are fine as the pilots, as is Barbara Luna as a blind girl at the hospital. Even in this, Sinatra, who isn't bad, gets the girl -- or does he? The film isn't entirely predictable in who will make it off the island or not.

Verdict: This movie is not a disaster. ***.

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