THE DEVIL AT 4 0,CLOCK ( 1961 ) FRANK SINATRA CENTENNIAL BLOGATHON

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This year ( 2015 ) marks a centennial event in the life of Frank Sinatra who was born 100 years ago on December 12th, 1915. For the occasion, Judy at the blog Movie Classics along with Emily from The Vintage Cameo are hosting a blogathon dedicated to the legendary Frank Sinatra and the myriad of achievements he made.

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In Hollywood where talent continues to proliferate, nobody has ever emulated the power and ability of Frank Sinatra, the renowned singer, actor and producer who became an eminent virtuoso of the entertainment industry during the golden age of cinema.

Frank Sinatra hailed from that rare pantheon of stars who embodied enough dynamism and force to be prominent in more than one fame credited profession, but unlike a plethora of these icons, Sinatra inhabited such a unique and inimitable flair for theatrics that simply cannot be equalled.

From his spectacular stage career to his significant approach into motion pictures where he pioneered his way through an array of diverse roles that would eventually amass into an illustrious resume of films, Frank Sinatra has done it all, and the final result proved to be incomparable.

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After making his film debut in 1941, Frank Sinatra continued to maintain a successful career in motion pictures. Even though he is primarily remembered for his memorable roles in musical productions, Sinatra received Academy Award nominations for his performances in compelling dramas that allowed him the opportunity to showcase his indelible pursuit in strong and effective heavy roles.

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A year before his monumental performance in The Manchurian Candidate, Frank Sinatra garnered critical acclaim for his portrayal of Harry in the 1961 production of, The Devil At 4 0’Clock, a film that starred his close friend and fellow member of the famed Rat Pack, Spencer Tracy.

For Frank Sinatra, the idea of reuniting with his close friend Spencer Tracy was a joyous occasion, but to Spencer Tracy, the prospects of filming a movie in Hawaii seemed doomed from the start. Tracy had always despised location shooting, and the fact that the producer Fred Kohlmar had no script, no director and an estimated start date of April 15th, spelled calamity before preparations even began. His doubts exacerbated when he found out that Peter Glenville was a possible candidate for the films director, but once two pages of the script were revealed he implored that the production be postponed until a revised and fresh copy of the script be developed.

To add to the already perplexing situation, a writer’s strike was imminent which threatened to disrupt Columbia’s plans to commence the production of The Devil At 4 0’Clock. This resulted in Tracy being inflicted with cold sweats that forced him to remain in his bed.

After much altercation the film was almost abandoned. Originally Sidney Poitier was to be Tracy’s co-star with Peter Glenville as director, but when The Devil At 4 0’Clock did come to fruition all of those initial plans were scrapped and Mervyn LeRoy served as director and Frank Sinatra was to replace Sidney Poitier. This was to be the fourth picture where Spencer Tracy was in a Roman Collar, playing a whiskey priest.

The Devil At 4 0’Clock was shot on location in Maui, Hawaii with a small portion of scenes filmed in California. For the production of this calibre to go ahead required extensive efforts from the cast and the crew. A volcano had to be specifically built on a remote farmland situated near Fallbrook, California, and had to be detonated using a considerable amount of explosives. During the explosion process the helicopter man and camera crew were almost killed, but managed to return to safety.

The film is also notable for the special effects of the volcano erupting. Years later the effects are now often re-used as stock footage. Due to these effects the production budget was high and was considered to be the most expensive film that Columbia Pictures ever made.

The Devil At 4 0’Clock was based on Max Catto’s 1959 novel of the same title, and was adapted to the screen by Liam O’Brian who also wrote the screenplay for Young At Heart which also stars Frank Sinatra.

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The plot centres around the story of the crusty priest, Father Doonan ( Spencer Tracy ) who is about to be replaced when a plane carrying three prisoners that is en route to Tahiti makes an unexpected landing at the island of Talua to refuel. Once the plane lands, the younger priest that acquires the minister duties disembarks with the three convicts. Among these prisoners is Harry ( Frank Sinatra ) the leader of the trio of criminals.

During their stay in Talua, Fathar Doonan implores Harry and his fellow prisoners to fulfil workmanship tasks by employing them in hard labor at the Leper hospital, a school he founded for children that are inflicted with Leprosy Disease.

Disaster strikes when the volcano decides to erupt and Father Doonan persuades Harry and the prisoners to assist him in rescuing the children from the Leper hospital situated on the mountains slope. Together Father Doonan and the three convicts work as a team in getting the children to safety, but first they must endure a series of catastrophic obstacles that lead them closer to the entire explosion of the island. Will they survive or will they meet the Devil At 4 0’Clock? Watch the movie and find out.

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The Devil At 4 0’Clock is a slow brewing movie that gradually reaches momentum as the film progresses. Instead of delving straight into action, we are given time to become acquainted with the characters who all seem to be moving at a leisurely pace while assembling themselves under the lush and congenial backdrop of Talua.

It is during the first quarter that we are introduced to Father Doonan, the cantankerous priest who is known for sending himself into light hearted drunken caper, and is about to replaced as a result of this.

While Father Doonan is often irascible, he also possesses an amiable and caring nature. He was the one who founded the Leper Hospital for children with Leprosy Disease, and once the volcano erupts, Father Doonan is the only person who exhibits considerable interest in the lives of these children and is persistent in rescuing them himself.

The other people on the island consider Leprosy Disease to be contagious and show no interest in the survival of these children. Apart from Father Doonan the only person who is concerned about these young lives is Harry ( Frank Sinatra ) who is among the triumvirate of prisoners that were originally on their way to Tahiti to face a jail sentence until their plane made an unexpected landing at the island of Talua.

Eventually Harry agrees to parachute into the mountains with Father Doonan to rescue the children from the Leper Hospital and bring them to safety, but in the process they encounter treacherous conditions that they must try to elude.

At first Harry is insidious and is known to the public, especially Father Doonan as a drifter, but once the volcano erupts, Harry metamorphoses himself from a malicious convict to an amicable character with a sense of empathy that is combined with allegiance.

In addition to the action sequences is a blossoming romance between Harry and Camille, a blind woman who resides in the Leper Colony. From the moment they meet the two fall in love and secretly elope during the smouldering of the volcano.

The Devil At 4 0’Clock is a brisk action packed extravaganza that showcases the evolution of Frank Sinatra’s character and the transformation that he endures. Accompanying Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra is the celestial scenery of Hawaii that is sure to capture your attention.

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Trivia:

The volcano in this film was built from scratch in farmland outside Fallbrook, California. Each shot required packing with hundreds of pounds of explosives and a carefully-orchestrated “eruption” to be filmed by the cameraman seated on the front skids of a helicopter. One eruption went off a little early and nearly took out the chopper, burning off the cameraman’s eyebrows and some of his hair. Because the eruptions looked so good, this ersatz volcano provided stock footage for decades of other films, commercials, etc.

In his autobiography “Sun and Shadow”, Jean-Pierre Aumont, who played Jacques, spoke of scheduling conflicts between Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra: “[Tracy], a genial man who was not well at the time, couldn’t work past the morning. The problem was that Sinatra would only work in the afternoon. In the morning he hired a private plane and hopped from island to island trying to convince the startled inhabitants to vote for [John F. Kennedy] in the next presidential election. Around two o’clock he returned, exhausted, at the precise moment when Tracy was retiring for the day to his rooms. How, in these conditions, the scenes between Tracy and Sinatra were shot is a mystery to me.”

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Cast:

Spencer Tracy: Born Spencer Bonaventure Tracy on April 5th, 1900 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Died: June 10th, 1967 in Beverly Hills, California.

Frank Sinatra: Born Francis Albert Sinatra on December 12th, 1915 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Died: May 14th, 1998 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 82.

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “THE DEVIL AT 4 0,CLOCK ( 1961 ) FRANK SINATRA CENTENNIAL BLOGATHON

  1. Silver Screenings says:

    Whoa – talk about a production plagued with problems, before it even gets out of the gate! It must be tough for any actor or crew member to face that kind of uncertainty at the start of a project. Thanks for providing all that info.

    Also interesting to know about the volcano and how it was built. I’ve not seen this film, but I’m keen to see it now, even if just for that volcano! 😉

    Like

  2. mikestakeonthemovies says:

    Great research here! Nicely put together. I generally like this film and am a fan of both leads. I often talk of the importance of films like this one. Not the greatest film in the career of either men but the fact we get to see them together is perhaps of greater importance.

    Like

  3. Judy says:

    You had me at Spencer Tracy playing another whisky priest, let alone Sinatra playing a prisoner and all the problems with the production! I haven’t seen this one as yet but will now track it down very soon. Thanks for this excellent piece and for taking part in the blogathon.

    Like

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