The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Devil at 4 O'Clock

Years before the disaster genre became popular in the 1970s with movies like Earthquake and The Towering Inferno, a movie called The Devil at 4 O'Clock was released with all the makings of a disaster movie, good special effects, ensemble cast, and in this case, a less than happy Hollywood ending. I was kind of surprised reading the reviews for 'Devil' which were generally lukewarm, sometimes negative and rarely positive. It caught me off guard mostly because I really enjoyed it, especially after a somewhat slow first half hour.

In one of his later roles in his great career, Spencer Tracy plays Father Matthew Doonan, a priest on a remote Tahitian island who's lost his congregation. Years before, he helped build a children's hospital for lepers causing the citizens to basically shun him, even though the leprosy isn't contagious. But anyways, the damage is done, and after almost 20 years living and working on the island, a replacement, Father Joseph Perreau (Kerwin Matthews), is being sent to the island. Onboard Perrau's plane are three convicts on their way to a prison on Tahiti to serve 8-year sentences.

So after characters are introduced, everything hits the fan. The volcanic island comes to life, spewing lava and molten rock high into the air. Doonan insists on trying to get to the hospital before lava flows reach the children, but he can't find any help to get up there until the three convicts step up to the plate with hopes of having their sentences commuted. Frank Sinatra leads the three convicts as Harry, a self-proclaimed bum who falls for Camille (22-year old Barbara Luna), a blind woman working at the hospital. His partners are Marcel (Gregoire Aslan), a Frenchman who loves life and everything about it, and Charlie (Bernie Hamilton), a skeptic who's always had to look out for No. 1. As the lava makes its way down the mountain, can the unlikely group of four make it in time?

Most well known for his singing abilities, and rightfully so, Sinatra's acting career has always been underappreciated. With the right role, the Chairman of the Board got to show off his range, in dramatic parts like From Here to Eternity and straight action/adventure movies like Von Ryan's Express or thrillers like The Manchurian Candidate. This is one of those parts as Harry transforms from a down-and-out bum on his way to prison to a man looking to save those in serious danger.

Sure, parts of the movie drag on a little long, but the characters are believable and likable, even the convicts, and the Hawaiian locations don't hurt at all. The story deals with issues of faith, beliefs and principles without being preachy about it as well. It is a movie that has flown under the radar all these years, surprising when you consider the two leads in Tracy and Sinatra. It's not a perfect movie, but it's definitely worth checking out.

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