FOUR MEN AND A PRAYER(director: John Ford; screenwriters: Richard Sherman/Sonya Levien/Walter Ferris/William Faulkner/based on a novel by David Garth; cinematographer: Ernest Palmer; editor: Louis Loeffler; music: Louis Silvers; cast: Loretta Young (Miss Lynn Cherrington), Richard Greene (Geoffrey Leigh), George Sanders (Wyatt Leigh), David Niven (Christopher Leigh), William Henry (Rodney Leigh), C. Aubrey Smith (Col. Loring Leigh), John Carradine (Gen. Sebastian), J. Edward Bromberg (Gen. Torres), Alan Hale (Mr. Furnoy), Reginald Denny (Capt. Douglas Loveland), Barry Fitzgerald (Trooper Mulcahay), Berton Churchill (Martin Cherrington), Will Stanton (Cockney in Marlanda), Frank Dawson (Manders), John Sutton (Capt. Drake); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Darryl F. Zanuck; Twentieth Century-Fox; 1938)
“The story is better presented than it deserves by a cast that is charming and a director who has a talent for eliciting snappy action scenes.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
John Ford (“The Searchers”/Pilgrimage”/”Four Sons”) directs this minor atypical mystery thriller that was adapted from David Garth’s novel and written by Richard Sherman, Sonya Levien, Walter Ferris and William Faulkner. The story is better presented than it deserves by a cast that is charming and a director who has a talent for eliciting snappy action scenes.
It has the venerable Colonel Loring Leigh (C. Aubrey Smith) dishonorably discharged during the time of British Colonialism in India from the British Army for issuing an order to Captain Douglas Loveland (Reginald Denny) to send away the Lancers guarding a mountain pass, which allowed munitions to be brought to a tribe who then cause a revolt that cost ninety lives. The disgraced Colonel cables his four sons, Rodney (William Henry), the youngest is a student at Oxford, Wyatt George Sanders), the oldest is a London barrister, Chris (David Niven), an aviator and playboy, and Geoffrey (Richard Greene, his film debut), an attaché at the British Embassy in Washington, to meet him at home in London. Before the Colonel can show his sons the evidence he collected that the orders were forged by someone working with a munitions syndicate, he’s shot to death and it’s made to look like a suicide. The four brothers, who idolized their dad, vow to clear their father’s name and get their father’s killer, which takes them to India, South America and Egypt.
Lynn Cherrington (Loretta Young), a spunky rich liberated American society matron who fell in love with Geoffrey in Washington, turns up at Leigh Hall, and wants to help. But the brothers have travel plans that don’t include her. Captain Drake (John Sutton) is killed when he goes to the Leigh mansion to meet Geoff in London to offer proof his dad was framed. Rodney and Wyatt travel to India to question Trooper Mulcahay (Barry Fitzgerald), the colonel’s servant, and learn that the arms came from Muros Island in South America by a company called Atlas Arms and they also recover a pistol with its named chiseled off from the same arms dealer used in the massacre. Chris goes to Buenos Aires to interview Loveland, who suddenly became rich and has retired there. Geoff soon joins his brother in South America. Lynn surprisingly is in Buenos Aires and in the company of Loveland, and she gets Loveland to invite Chris, Geoff and herself up river on the yacht of Furnoy (Alan Hale), an oily rich American who is in the rubber business and has business dealings with Lynn’s father who happens to be president of the suspicious Atlas Arms company. The manufacturer’s guns supply a revolt, but General Torres (J. Edward Bromberg) who purchased the guns for the rebels is taken prisoner by General Sebastian (John Carradine) and shot by a firing squad and the rebels are mowed down with machine guns when their guns are defective. The brothers get the goods on Loveland and get him to confess he forged the orders, but he’s killed before signing the confession. But things get cleared up when the brothers go to Alexandria, Egypt, and with the help of Lynn confront her father, who is not the guilty culprit behind the arms company’s duplicity, but provides the clues that lead the brothers to the guilty party in his company who started the revolt. In the loyal brothers restore their father’s good name and their country gives them a medal.
Ford, who was never excited about making this queasy sort of a political film but had a contract with Fox that mandated he make it, was able to give his all in only a few scenes that was dear to his heart–like the warm reunion with the sons and their cashiered father. The film by making light of British imperialism and whitewashing the atrocities committed by the global arms trade, who go overboard only when they damage the name of a respectable British family, offers a very questionable political statement to hang your hat on and makes this a difficult pic to believe in.
REVIEWED ON 12/29/2007 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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