BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Jan 14th, 2003 •

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(Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment) 1961
127 mins / 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio

So many people discredit Mervyn Le Roy’s career as a director that I’m forced to question it myself. LITTLE CAESAR, I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG. Hard to dispute the value of these titles. But this DVD speaks for the naysayers.

THE DEVIL AT 4 O’CLOCK is a ‘Disaster film’ a decade before its time. The mastering brings out the lush greens and vivid standard widescreen detail as it’s never been seen since the film’s release. All that had been left of the film in its video and laserdisc life cycles was George Duning’s slightly heavyhanded but heartfelt and extremely effective score, and the offbeat ending.

Now it’s almost a keeper for its sheer DVD beauty. Le Roy’s directorial sloppiness is evident in the casting, the uneven script, and in the uncertainty of many of the performances – actors who falter in the background, indicating that they’re getting no guidance. Even Sinatra and Tracy seem uncharacteristically ill at ease at times, not at the crest of their game.

But what kills this lovely disc’s value for me is the ending. Leading up to it, Sinatra and his convict buddies, together with dissolute priest Tracy, are forced to help a group of children escape an island doomed by a volcanic eruption. (SPOILER ahead) The kids make it, as does the beautiful blind native girl (Barbara Luna) whom Sinatra has fallen for, but rather than escape with her, he chooses to return to one of his fallen comrades, who is being tended by Tracy, giving all three a scenic view of the volcano. And as the final, Krakatoa-style cataclysm begins, we cut to the sea, which turns a bloody red with the might of the explosion, and the faces of those who have escaped on their boats reflect the deep crimson as the music soars…

…except it doesn’t. Re-timed by people who don’t remember how the film looked in its original release, we see the color shift dramatically to red over the ocean, but all the ensuing shots of their faces have been re-balanced for skin tone. As an indicator of the error, the grain of the film goes completely out of whack in these shots, and you can even see the moment it stabilizes, where the red was supposed to have receded, restoring the color to normal.

Ruined. The only really inspired idea in the whole film, utterly ruined in the very last minute.

Spencer Tracy
Frank Sinatra,
Kerwin Matthews
Jean-Pierre Aumont
Alexander Scourby
Barbara Luna
Gregoire Aslan

Directed by Mervyn Le Roy.
Produced by Fred Kohlmar.
Screenplay by Liam O’Brien.
Music by George Duning.
Cinematography by Joseph Biroc.

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