In The Devil At 4 O’Clock Spencer Tracy is a whisky-drinking priest on a volcanic South Pacific island under French administration. Forever on the scrounge – though sometimes on behalf of a children’s leper colony – he is to be replaced by angelic Kerwin Matthews, a more suitable cleric. Three convicts are shipped to the island and the old priest attempts to recruit them as orderlies at a children’s leper hospital. Frank Sinatra, a graduate of Hell’s Kitchen, thinks that this would be better than jail, especially when he meets nurse Barbara Luna. But of course just as a gun in a play must go off, so a volcano in a movie cannot remain dormant.
Reportedly, Sinatra refused to play the dialogue scenes when the camera did not favour him, a gross insult to a major player like Tracy. So the filming was tense to say the least. The movie is a veterans’ outing – Tracy and director Mervyn LeRoy were both 61, Sinatra no chicken (though behaving like one) at 45 – and the result is accordingly old-fashioned but full of craft. It was part-filmed on Hawaii. The title comes from an old saying: “It is hard for a man to be brave when he knows he must meet the devil at four o’clock.”
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Frank Sinatra, Kerwin Mathews, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Grégoire Aslan, Alexander Scourby, BarBara Luna, Bernie Hamilton, Cathy Lewis, Martin Brandt
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Writer: Liam O’Brien, after the novel by Max Catto
Production Companies: Columbia Pictures Corporation
Release Date: 18 October 1961
Running Time: 126 minutes
Genres: Adventure, Action, Drama
Country: United States of America
Tagline: They jumped into hell to save part of heaven.