A crusty, eccentric priest recruits three reluctant convicts to help him rescue a children's leper colony from a Pacific island menaced by a smoldering volcano.A crusty, eccentric priest recruits three reluctant convicts to help him rescue a children's leper colony from a Pacific island menaced by a smoldering volcano.A crusty, eccentric priest recruits three reluctant convicts to help him rescue a children's leper colony from a Pacific island menaced by a smoldering volcano.
It's entirely possible that Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra agreed to do the film for a vacation to Hawaii and who could blame them. But in fact with Mervyn Leroy directing, the two of them starred in a very nice story about a priest losing and regaining his faith.
Spencer Tracy is in his fourth and final film as a priest. He was sent many years ago to this tropical paradise under French colonial administration. It's a lush green place with a very large volcano.
Tracy also saw a need for a children's hospital for lepers which was still prevalent among the population. The other islanders didn't share his vision to put it mildly. Their own callousness drove him from his faith and started him drinking and doing other sins.
Anyway he's being recalled and a new priest, Kerwin Matthews, is being sent to replace him on the island and in the hospital which is located halfway up the volcano slope. Arriving on the same plane for layover are three convicts, Frank Sinatra, Bernie Hamilton, and Gregoire Aslan, who are bound for prison in Tahiti.
Wouldn't you know it, the volcano erupts and the only men who are able to help Tracy with the hospital patients and staff getting them down the mountain and evacuated are the three convicts.
It's quite a journey, all of the people involved discover hidden wellsprings of character.
Of course the two stars have great roles. There's enough of the hipster Sinatra there to recognize, but he too is transformed by the experience. This maybe the only film where he plays someone who is actually from where old Blue Eyes was born in real life, Hudson County, New Jersey.
Spencer Tracy had stopped playing traditional leading men long before this. He had an aversion to make up in general and was the least vain of leading male stars about growing old. Tracy's face and the sincerity with which he speaks his lines keep his performance from becoming maudlin. He has a powerful moving scene comforting the dying Bernie Hamilton and renewing his own lapsed Catholicism.
The only thing I fault The Devil at 4 O'Clock for is that Humphrey Bogart did not live long enough to do the part Sinatra did. Tracy and Bogey were a great mutual admiration society and way back in 1931 they did a film for John Ford, Up the River, which was Tracy's screen debut and Bogey's second film. They never got to work together again, but became great friends and Tracy was a frequent visitor along with Katharine Hepburn to Bogart when he was dying.
As good as Sinatra was, this part was made for Humphrey Bogart. I have a feeling had he lived with a bit of rewriting, this could have been their joint co-starring vehicle.
What a classic that would have been.
- Oct 24, 2006