14 December 2007 | blanche-2
Four brothers and one woman on an international search
Richard Greene, David Niven, George Sanders and William Henry are the four men part of "Four Men and a Prayer," a 1938 John Ford film also starring Loretta Young. Frankly I felt as if I came in at the middle of this film, though I saw the whole thing - but I never actually did figure out the plot. The boys' father (C. Aubrey Smith) has been dishonorably discharged from the army and telegraphs each son that he wants to meet them at the family manse. The discharge was unfair - he was set up - now, I'm guessing here but it had something to do with illegal arms. His sons want to help him, but moments later, he is murdered in his study and his papers stolen. Taking what info they have, they split up and travel to India, South America and Egypt to find the people their father mentioned who can help clear his name. Loretta Young, who plays Greene's madcap girlfriend, chases him shamelessly in a variety of outfits.
I still can't decide if there was too little or too much fooling around by the brothers. For me the comic stuff never does come off, Niven being the exception. The acting, however, is good. Richard Greene might have been Tyrone Power's only rival at 20th Century Fox, except that he returned to England in 1940 to enter the service. This was his first film under contract to Fox. He was very handsome with a nice screen persona; baby boomers may remember him as television's "Robin Hood." Loretta Young is dazzlingly beautiful - I actually didn't find her annoying as she seemed to fit right into the frenetic energy of the film. Sanders and Niven turned in their usual fine performances.
There's a nice turn by Lina Basquette, too, as a foreign woman with information. For those who don't know Lina, well, she was a silent screen star and half-sister of dancer Marge Champion. She was married to Sam Warner; after his death, the Warners took her child from her and made sure she never worked again. She eventually went to the dogs - literally - by becoming a breeder and judge at the Westminster Dog Show. In a New Yorker Profile done in the 1990s, she claimed to have been propositioned by Hitler and said she had done work as a spy during World War II. She also declared Eric Braeden of "The Young and the Restless" her favorite actor and ended up meeting him. She appeared at Cinecom when she was in her late 80s, and the audience, used to seeing elderly actresses in wheelchairs, was shocked at the end of "The Younger Generation," one of her early films, when she didn't walk - but ran onto the stage, looking incredible, to answer questions.
For me, Lina's appearance as Ahnee is actually the high point of "Four Men and a Prayer," featuring some very attractive people in a half-comedy/half-drama and a confusing plot. Thankfully, Ford didn't stick with this genre.