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Devil at 4 O’Clock, The (1961, Spencer Tracy, Frank Sinatra)

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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.’

production details
USA | 126 minutes | 1961

Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Writer: Liam O’Brien, after the novel by Max Catto

cast
Spencer Tracy as Father Matthew Doonan
Frank Sinatra as Harry
Kerwin Mathews as Father Joseph Perreau
Jean-Pierre Aumont as Jacques
Grégoire Aslan as Marcel
Alexander Scourby as The Governor
BarBara Luna as Camille
Bernie Hamilton as Charlie
Cathy Lewis as Matron
Martin Brandt as Doctor Wexler