(director: Mervyn LeRoy; screenwriters: from the book by Max Catto/Max Catto/Liam O’Brien; cinematographer: Joseph Biroc; editor: Charles Nelson; music: George Duning; cast: Spencer Tracy (Father Matthew Doonan), Frank Sinatra (Harry), Kerwin Mathews (Father Joseph Perreau), Jean-Pierre Aumont (Jacques, pilot), Gregoire Aslan (Marcel), Barbara Luna (Camille), Martin Brandt (Doctor Wexler), Louis Merrill (Aristide Giraud), Bernie Hamilton (Charlie), Alexander Scourby (The Governor), Tom Middleton (Paul, co-pilot); Runtime: 127; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Fred Kohlmar; Columbia Pictures; 1961)

“The special effects were fine.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A tedious downbeat disaster film, poorly paced and at least thirty minutes too long, directed in a ponderous way by Mervyn LeRoy. Spencer Tracy plays a do-gooder American missionary priest who loves his leper children that he keeps on a remote part of a Polynesian island called Kalua. A plane carrying three escaped convicts from a Tahiti prison, Harry (Frank Sinatra), Charlie (Bernie Hamilton), and Marcel (Gregoire Aslan), stops overnight on this tiny French island to deliver the replacement priest for Father Matthew Doonan (Spencer Tracy), Father Joseph Perreau. Doonan takes the convicts to the leper children’s hospital he has built on his own, located atop of a mountain, and has the reluctant trio do free labor to repair the chapel. Harry, the wise-guy leader of the group, falls for the blind Camille, an attractive volunteer worker and makes contact with his good side. A volcano erupts just as the priest leaves with the convicts. The Governor (Alexander Scourby) orders the island evacuated, but reluctantly allows Doonan to parachute down with the convicts to see if the lepers are still alive. They will have to return by 4 o’clock the next day, or else the last schooner will leave without them.

The lepers are alive, and Doonan who has hit the bottle and lost his faith in God regains it as the convicts miraculously convert and become saintly rescuers (it would also take a miracle to make me believe their sudden transformation). Charlie sacrifices his life, holding up a bridge, so the children and staff could be saved before the volcano turns the island into fire and brimstone. The convicts lose their bodies but save their souls, as they depart to heaven with Father Doonan.

It was shot in Hawaii, but the volcano was made from dynamite explosions in farmland outside Fallbrook, California. The special effects were fine, and were about all that was salvageable from this disaster of a film.