Four Men and a Prayer (1938)

“If dad’s evidence was so important that they had to murder him, we’ll be running the same risk.”

Synopsis:
A disgraced British colonel (C. Aubrey Smith) falsely accused of issuing an order responsible for 90 deaths in India shares what he knows with his four sons — Geoffrey (Richard Greene), Wyatt (George Sanders), Christopher (David Niven), and Rodney (William Henry) — and is then promptly murdered. The brothers, secretly accompanied by Greene’s love-interest (Loretta Young), set off across the globe to investigate, and soon discover their father was a pawn in illegal arms dealings.

Genres:

Review:
John Ford was contracted to direct this highly uneven adventure sleuth flick toggling between scenes of romantic comedy (which handsome brother will Young end up with?) and the murderous slaughter of innocent civilians in South America. To its credit, the film is atmospherically shot by Ford and DP Ernest Palmer, and the script goes in continuously unexpected directions — but the tonal shifts (especially given the gravity of the subject matter) are simply too jolting to stomach. Young’s performance is a stand-out: she, along with her innovative costumes and hats, emerges as the true heroine of the film. Also of minor note is Sanders not playing a cad for once, and the truly weird inclusion of Niven speaking like a duck with an Asian servant (?!).

Note: Ford apparently claimed of this film, “I didn’t want to do that picture, and I raised hell, but I had it under contract. I made it but I didn’t see it.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Loretta Young as Lynn Cherrington
  • Ernest Palmer’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one time look.

Links:

One Response to “Four Men and a Prayer (1938)”

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    A reasonably compelling (if, yes, uneven) whodunit. Ford may not have wanted to direct it but he still applied himself in his usual manner (no doubt he had his reputation to think of if his name was on it). In agreement that “the film is atmospherically shot by Ford and DP Ernest Palmer, and the script goes in continuously unexpected directions — but the tonal shifts (especially given the gravity of the subject matter) are simply too jolting to stomach.”

    Apparently William Faulkner worked on the screenplay uncredited.

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