Monday, 6 October 2008

Four Men and a Prayer (1938)

The director John Ford is one of my cinema gods and at some point during most of his films I find myself moved to tears. However amongst his large output there were some definite duds. In particular "Mogambo", despite its starry cast, has always struck me as but a pale shadow of the original "Red Dust" and the English-set "Gideon's Day" has very little to offer. The above movie is possibly another of his lesser films, but by its casting alone, it deserves out attention. Ford himself is said to have stated that he considered this shoot just a job of work, but it is still -- despite the outlandish story -- a well-mounted and generally involving tale.

Army officer C. Aubrey Smith (the foremost figure of English authority from the 30s) cables his four sons that he has been court-martialed and dishonoured; it seems that he was getting in the way of a ruthless international arms syndicate. The sons played by George Sanders, David Niven, Richard Greene (nominally the lead), and the little-known William Henry set out to prove his innocence after he is found murdered (a crime that was meant to be taken as suicide). They travel to India and South America to track down the names their father has mentioned before his sudden demise. This is where the film is graced with its galaxy of wonderful character actors: Alan Hale, John Carradine, Reginald Denny, J. Edward Bromberg, Barry Fitzgerald,, who all play their part in solving the mystery and restoring the family name.

The weakest link is love interest Loretta Young who is involved with Greene, but who is happy indeed to flirt with the other brothers. This normally charming actress is just a flighty spoiled rich girl here, unexpectedly turning up in various parts of the world in a succession of designer outfits, and relatively flippant even after witnessing a local massacre.

So, yes, it's minor Ford and well down the list of his "must-see" movies, but from my point of view, even minor Ford beats out much of the competition.
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