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|Index||12 reviews in total|
Four brothers receive telegrams from their father, telling them he has
been dishonourably discharged and bidding them meet him at their home.
They arrive to learn that he has the evidence to prove he was framed in
his court-martial, but before the end of the evening Father has been
murdered in his locked study, and his papers stolen. The four brothers
fan out across the globe in search of the four men their father
mentioned who might be able to prove his innocence--sort of an inverted
version of the Four Feathers.
The brothers, played by George Sanders, David Niven, William Henry, and Richard Greene (who, from a distance, looks oddly like Brendan Fraser), are staunch in support of their dishonored father (played by the only actor who could command unquestioning faith in his military honor: C. Aubrey Smith). In their travels, they are haunted by Greene's irritating American girlfriend, played by Loretta Young as not much more than a series of costume changes (she shows up in some of the oddest hats imaginable, and one fur-trimmed number that makes you wonder if she's a Plushy fetishist--she does make up for it, however, in a lovely gown-to-watch-revolutions-by). Perhaps her most far-fetched moment, however, is her light-hearted banter after an evening of watching a military massacre.
Along the way, the tone of the movie changes almost as often as Young's wardrobe. You think you're in a sort of amateur detective yarn, and suddenly you're watching innocent peasants mowed down by the military. The director, John Ford, is quoted in the AFI Catalog as having said, "I just didn't like the story, or anything about it, so it was a job of work." His lack of passion really shows.
But the chaotic story (filled with pointless red herrings, such as the role Young's father may or may not have played in the evil-doings) does have some wonderful light moments, most of them provided by Niven, who is just delightful throughout: conversing with a boat steward in Donald Duck voices, playing with rubber toys, mocking Henry's incipient whiskers, roughhousing with his brothers when they reunite on a boat dock. These touches make the film less painful than it would be otherwise. The wonderful George Sanders, however, is painfully underutilized.
Richard Greene, David Niven, George Sanders and William Henry are the
four men part of "Four Men and a Prayer," a 1938 John Ford film also
starring Loretta Young. Frankly I felt as if I came in at the middle of
this film, though I saw the whole thing - but I never actually did
figure out the plot. The boys' father (C. Aubrey Smith) has been
dishonorably discharged from the army and telegraphs each son that he
wants to meet them at the family manse. The discharge was unfair - he
was set up - now, I'm guessing here but it had something to do with
illegal arms. His sons want to help him, but moments later, he is
murdered in his study and his papers stolen. Taking what info they
have, they split up and travel to India, South America and Egypt to
find the people their father mentioned who can help clear his name.
Loretta Young, who plays Greene's madcap girlfriend, chases him
shamelessly in a variety of outfits.
I still can't decide if there was too little or too much fooling around by the brothers. For me the comic stuff never does come off, Niven being the exception. The acting, however, is good. Richard Greene might have been Tyrone Power's only rival at 20th Century Fox, except that he returned to England in 1940 to enter the service. This was his first film under contract to Fox. He was very handsome with a nice screen persona; baby boomers may remember him as television's "Robin Hood." Loretta Young is dazzlingly beautiful - I actually didn't find her annoying as she seemed to fit right into the frenetic energy of the film. Sanders and Niven turned in their usual fine performances.
There's a nice turn by Lina Basquette, too, as a foreign woman with information. For those who don't know Lina, well, she was a silent screen star and half-sister of dancer Marge Champion. She was married to Sam Warner; after his death, the Warners took her child from her and made sure she never worked again. She eventually went to the dogs - literally - by becoming a breeder and judge at the Westminster Dog Show. In a New Yorker Profile done in the 1990s, she claimed to have been propositioned by Hitler and said she had done work as a spy during World War II. She also declared Eric Braeden of "The Young and the Restless" her favorite actor and ended up meeting him. She appeared at Cinecom when she was in her late 80s, and the audience, used to seeing elderly actresses in wheelchairs, was shocked at the end of "The Younger Generation," one of her early films, when she didn't walk - but ran onto the stage, looking incredible, to answer questions.
For me, Lina's appearance as Ahnee is actually the high point of "Four Men and a Prayer," featuring some very attractive people in a half-comedy/half-drama and a confusing plot. Thankfully, Ford didn't stick with this genre.
It will take FOUR MEN AND A PRAYER to save an old colonel's reputation
Although its complicated plot is faintly ludicrous, this John Ford film offers plenty of action and some good acting to keep its viewers entertained. The production value is of a high order and there's a generous amount of heroics, which almost makes one forget that there's no really despicable villain to hiss.
Barrister George Sanders, diplomat Richard Greene, military pilot David Niven, and Oxford student William Henry are the English brothers who unite to find their father's murderer and clear his good name. All do a fine job with what the script gives them, constantly dashing about and acting terribly energetic, with young Henry more than keeping up with his three better known costars. Greene actually has top billing, but Niven gets the best lines, getting to leaven a good deal of humor into his performance.
Lovely Loretta Young does not fare so well. She's given the ridiculous role of a silly rich girl in love with Greene who follows him first from America to England, then on to Argentina and Egypt. Even witnessing a hideous massacre doesn't entirely sober her, as she begins to behave like a junior league Mata Hari to uncover information for the preternaturally patient Greene. One usually expects more than this from John Ford's heroines.
The rest of the large cast offers able support, however. Wonderful old Sir C. Aubrey Smith graces his brief role as the men's tragic father. Stalwart Reginald Denny plays a captain with too much information for his own good. Affable Alan Hale has fun with his role as a millionaire arms dealer. J. Edward Bromberg is a squalid little South American general and, in a tiny role, John Carradine plays his suave & dangerous enemy. Blustery Berton Churchill plays the powerful tycoon father of Miss Young's character, while bantam Barry Fitzgerald steals his few moments of screen time as a boisterous little Irishman ready for a good fight.
A lavish production, fast-paced direction, and some exciting action sequences tip the balance in favor of this basically juvenile derring-do in the spirit of GUNGA DIN. On the other hand, there is some offensive stereotyping, lots of flat dialogue, and cartoon-like conceptions of character. The four men are brothers, but act so naively that they seem like twelve-year olds: David Niven gets the brightest moments. While tracking down the enemies of their dear old Dad [the always magisterial C. Aubrey Smith], they are joined by spunky [verging on downright pushy] Loretta Young. She has one costume that can be described as the Grizzly Bear Dress, but she sports some nifty outfits too. They all rush around the globe chasing villains until Loretta's father, a kindly munitions tycoon, helps to resolve the mystery. A more accurate title might be FOUR FEATHERS MEET NANCY DREW.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A very serious plot is thwarted by comedy of all things. Four brothers
try to clear the name of their good father who was dishonorably
discharged for giving an order which was later found out to be forged
by another person.
In the midst of all this, the father who is murdered before he can reveal evidence attesting to his innocence, we have some comedy here. When the comedy fades, we have machine gunning killing of many innocent men, women and children in this very uneven plot. Who exactly are the rebels? What is going on here?
Alan Hale is just too "light" to be the heavy in the film. Loretta Young, whose father in the film is the president of the gun business and who falls under suspicion, is flighty at best. She gets involved and her involvement gets the guys to suspect her. In the mean time, she loves one of the brothers played by Richard Greene. As the eldest brother, George Sanders is given little to do here and David Niven, another brother, is as stiff as ever.
A lot of players whom you do not associate with John Ford participated
in Four Men And A Prayer. The four men are brothers named Leigh who are
in all kinds of occupations, but come together to clear the name of
dear old dad C. Aubrey Smith. The brothers are George Sanders, David
Niven, Richard Greene, and William Henry. Only Henry has any other Ford
films listed in his career credits.
Smith has been cashiered out of the army after a lifetime of service in British India and the sons want to clear his name. Smith has been gathering evidence to that affect, but he's been shot and killed and that only makes the sons more determined.
It's to the four corners of the earth that the brothers go. Niven and Greene are in Argentina where there's a revolution fomenting and both get in heat over Loretta Young. Greene and Young knew each other before and both are players. And both get quite a reality jolt during this attempted revolution.
The villains here are arms manufacturers, very popular villains up to the point that Mr. Hitler decided to rearm and then people decided that this crowd did have its uses. The plot is not terribly coherent other than arms dealers will sell to all no matter the political point of view. That they actually encourage both sides in a given situation to start shooting is a point not well made in Four Men And A Prayer or in the Halls of Congress where there were hearings on this subject around the time Four Men And A Prayer came out.
This film is one of John Ford's lesser efforts, but fans of the director will approve.
The basic story idea of FOUR MEN AND A PRAYER is excellent--that there
is an international arms syndicate that instigates wars for profit.
And, when a man (C. Aubrey Smith) gets in their way, they set him up
and it's up to his four sons to clear their father's name. This first
15 minutes of the film really hooked me--what an exciting idea!!
Unfortunately, I continued watching the film. What bothered me most were the rather annoying and insipid character played by Loretta Young as well as the often silly and unconvincing writing (especially the dialog). Instead of a serious drama, lots of bad and inappropriate humor was injected into the film (such as the god-awful voice that David Niven did twice in the film). Think about it...these four brave lads are out to prove dad was NOT a coward as well as discover who is a murderer and yet they take time to make jokes, engage in insipid "gay banter" and even chase a skirt (Miss Young)--all while they are on a desperate world-wide chase to uncover the conspiracy AND ensure world peace!! The bottom line is that the first portion of the film was excellent and it appeared as if the writer died and was replaced by a couple of 8 year-olds who love comedy AND movie serials!! A very poor mix indeed and a film that is only just watchable and everyone involved should have been ashamed of the final product--especially since the film features many excellent actors. Think about it--George Sanders, C. Aubrey Smith, David Niven and Alan Hale AND the film still is bad--that is TOUGH to do! Frankly, I think my 4 might just be a might generous. Watch only if you are a huge fan of John Ford and want to see one of his few misfires.
While so far my review is the most negative about this film, I was shocked by one reviewer that gave it a 10! Even if I am off base, there is no way this film should be ranked up there with THE GODFATHER, GONE WITH THE WIND or MARTY. Even one reviewer, who liked it, described the film as "preposterous". 10?! A perfect film?! Certainly not!
Perhaps the inspiration for the 2005 film "Four Brothers," this
overlooked John Ford gem from 1938 is a winner all the way, except for
the nondescript title which makes one think this is going to be some
type of religious outing, especially since Barry Fitzgerald is in the
Good performances abound, in particular Loretta Young as a headstrong globetrotter, Lynn Cherrington, who is determined to get her man but gets involved with murder and intrigue along the way; David Niven as one of the Brothers Leigh, Christopher, whose derring-do is often derring-undone; George Sanders playing against type as another of the Brothers Leigh, Wyatt, a barrister who knows the law better than he knows people; Reginald Denny as a gunrunner named Capt. Douglas Loveland who lets a pretty skirt get the best of him; Alan Hale as Mr. Furnoy, a scoundrel in sheep's clothing; and the always reliable C. Aubrey Smith in a brief appearance as the father, Col. Loring Leigh. Veteran actors Barry Fitzgerald and John Carradine do their usual superior jobs but have only small roles.
John Ford's direction adds much to the total effect of the film. Note the action scenes in South American of the revolution where camera work and film editing are paramount. The firing squad sequence plays almost like a clip from Woody Allen's "Bananas," including several covert comedy touches that would later be labeled black humor.
Not surprising for such a crisp script with probing lines, the hand of novelist William Faulkner shows through. This is obvious in the conversations between the brothers, at times playful, at other times dead serious, and in the repartee between Lynn Cherrington and the four brothers--also between her and her father.
The story concerns Col. Leigh being accused of causing the death of several of his men in India. He is given a dishonorable discharge by the British army as a result. He summons his four sons to meet with him at their home in London. The youngest is enrolled at Oxford; the oldest is a practicing barrister; another is some sort of diplomat in Washington, D.C.; and the fourth is in the military. The Col. has a briefcase full of papers to prove his innocence. While perusing the documents in the study to get his defense together while the four brothers are waiting in the foyer, a shot rings out. The Col. is dead but not from suicide as indicated by the position of the body and gun in hand. That the papers are missing points to murder.
The four brothers then begin globe trotting to find the killer and the motive behind it. Two go to India to investigate. The other two go to South America. Geoffrey Leigh's American girlfriend, Lynn, tags along to help though her assistance is discouraged by the brothers. The plot becomes more complicated when it is learned that a gun syndicate called Atlas Arms may be behind it all.
Interesting film for the actors playing three of the brothers and the father and Loretta Young in a more whimsical part than usual for her. We've seen this type character portrayed before - a charmed harum scarum type - but not particularly by her. It features Richard Greene, an actor whose star rose quickly but had a short run. Don't try to follow the action, and see it more than once if you intend to attempt to follow the path leading toward the perpetrator. The arms seller father is a rewarding figure as he turns out a good guy who helps to simplify things, much needed in a complicated and twisted trail. Alan Hale is also in an atypical role as the evil genius. I can see why this one would be diverting at the time of release, but not one with a lasting shelf life, except for completists of a particular actor or stalwart fan.
This movie was a well written adventure and suspense yarn with a very distinguished cast. However, I feel that the character played by Loretta Young was overemphasized. From the moment that she first enters the story she is in virtually every scene. After awhile it got a bit distracting. She played one of those "won't take no for an answer" types who always gets her way. Despite this annoying characterization, overall i enjoyed the film.
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