Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Four Men and a Prayer

FXM Retro ran Four Men and a Prayer today at lunchtime, and is repeating it again tomorrow morning at 4:32 AM for anybody who missed today's airing.

C. Aubrey Smith plays Col. Loring Leigh, who at the beginning of the movie is stationed in British India and being court-martialed for giving an order that led to a bunch of British soldiers being massacred. The only thing is, he's convinced the order is a forgery. He gets dishonorably discharged, and sends telegrams to his four sons: Geoffrey (Richard Greene) is working at the British embassy in Washington; Wyatt (George Sanders) is a barrister in London; Christopher (David Niven) is in the flying corps; and young Rodney (William Henry) is studying at Oxford. The four sons return to the old family home, where Dad is goign to show them the evidence that will clear his name. Except that before he can do so, he's shot dead in his study!

Fortunately for the four sons, Dad gave them a couple of names as leads before he was shot. One of them, Capt. Drake, is in London and is going to visit Geoffrey at the Leigh estate in the country; Capt. Loveland (Reginald Denny) has retired from the service and is in Buenos Aires where Christopher heads; and a Mulcahy (Barry Fitzgerald) is still in India, which is where Wyatt and Rodney go. Also showing up at the Leigh place is a woman Geoffrey knew in Washington, the lovely and well-dresses Lynn Cherrington (Loretta Young). She claims she's got something important to tell him, but he brushes her off because the meeting with Drake is so much more important. Except that Drake shows up at the Leigh estate dead and with the taxi driver missing. Geoffrey heads off to Buenos Aires, and Lynn, having figured out that's where Geoffrey is going, arranges to get a boat to New York and fly from there to Buenos Aires so that she can beat the boat from the UK to Argentina.

Eventually, there's a complex conspriacy theory that involves arms smuggling, a coup d'├ętat in some backwater island just off the coast of South America, and people in India and Alexandria, Egypt who know more about what's going on than they're letting on. And just how much does Lynn know, anyway?

The idea behind Four Men and a Prayer is a good one, but the execution winds up being less than the sum of its parts. The movie doesn't spend enough time in any one place for that part of the movie to be interesting. Why Lynn knows so much about what's going on but not about the key plot point at the climax is never explained. How everybody flits through the island where the coup happens strains credulity: once they found out there was arms smuggling going on they would have been detained then and there unless you've got a preternaturally stupid bad guy. And Lynn leaves everywhere terribly quickly but has no problems moving her Kay Francis wardrobe around. There should be more to the film, but it never quite gets anywhere.

Four Men and a Prayer was directed by John Ford, and as such has wound up on one of the box sets of his work. I'm not certain if that set is still in print, although there do appear to be a few copies available at Amazon.


The Metzinger Sisters said...

A John Ford film that I have never heard of. It's hard to resist those British India flicks, even if this one doesn't wrap up nicely. Thanks for spotlighting it!

Ted S. (Just a Cineast) said...

There's not that much India in this one: a few scenes at the beginning, and then one in the middle with Barry Fitzgeraald. There's actually no one place with the bulk of the action, which is divided between South America and the UK, with a bit of Egypt and the US.

But yes, there are a lot of movies dealing with British India if you think about it