Monday, July 20, 2015

The Devil at 4 O'Clock

A few years back I briefly mentioned the film The Devil at 4 O'Clock. It's airing tomorrow afternoon at 4:45 PM on TCM, so now would be a good time to do a full-length post on the film.

The movie opens with a plane landing on Kalua, one of those small South Pacific islands that in this case is owned by the French. On the plane are four passengers we need concern ourselves with. Harry (Frank Sinatra), Marcel (Grégoire Aslan), and Charlie (Bernie Hamilton) are convicts, and are being transported to Tahiti to serve prison sentences, but the plane stopped here for refueling and whatnot. The fourth passenger is Father Perreau (Kerwin Matthews). He's a Catholic priest, and is here to take over priestly duties from Father Doonan (Spencer Tracy). Doonan started a hospital and school for leper children many years ago, and he's reached the age where the Church feels it's better to recall him and let somebody younger take over. Kalua doesn't really have the proper facilities for three convicts like the ones who have arrived, so the governor of the island (Alexander Scourby) sends them off with Father Perreau since he's going to the leper hospital.

The thing is, the leper hospital is halfway up the mountain, in a rather inaccessible place. The reason for this is that the locals were afraid of leprosy, and the God-forsaken place is about the only place Doonan could get the facility built. Not only is the place God-forsaken, the attitude of the locals toward Doonan and the children he takes care of has led to Doonan questioning his own faith and being a rather unorthodox Catholic priest, which is probably part of the reason he's being replaced.

Oh, and did I mention that the hospital is not just halfway up a mountain, but that that mountain is a volcano? Well, you'll find out soon enough, as the volcano begins to let out smoke in a minor eruption. Of course, a minor eruption is one that happens to other people and in other parts of the world. When you live at the base of the volcano, any time it lets out steam or ash is a big deal. And so the authorities begin to investigate whether the volcano is going to blow its top the way Mt. St. Helens did back in 1980. They also make plans to evacuate the islanders to safety. But who's going to help the lepers evacuate, since none of the locals want to help them? You can probably guess who.

Then, to make matters worse, the minor eruption turns into a major eruption, with it looking dicey as to whether any of the sick children or the adults looking after them will be able to make it to safety. If a place is inaccessible to get to, then it's also going to be inaccessible to get from, after all.

The Devil at 4 O'Clock is a movie that I'm probably harsher on than I ought to be. I think it's mostly because I find the script to be ludicrous at times. Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra both try, but the script asks them to do things that are just a little too over the top. That having been said, it's entertaining enough, and nice to look at.

The Devil at 4 O'Clock is another of those movies that I think is out of print on DVD. You can find copies on Amazon, but it's not available from the TCM Shop.

No comments: