In The Devil At 4 O’Clock Spencer Tracy plays 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 Father Perreau (Kerwin Matthews), a more suitable cleric. Three convicts are shipped to the island and the old priest attempts to recruit them as orderlies at the leper hospital.
Harry (Frank Sinatra), a graduate of Hell’s Kitchen, thinks that this would be better than jail, especially when he meets nurse Camille (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 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 Matthews, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Grégoire Aslan, Alexander Scourby, Barbara Luna, Cathy Lewis, Bernie Hamilton
Writer: Liam O’Brien, after the novel by Max Catto
Director: Mervyn LeRoy