The Left Hand of God – 1955

Left Hand of God poster

My Review

—Great Cast, Great Film—

Your Bogie Film Fix (Out of 5 Bogies):

4.5 Bogie

 

 

 

Director: Edward Dmytryk

The Lowdown

A priest (Humphrey Bogart) raises suspicions from the medical staff of a remote Chinese mission after displaying some rough-around-the-edges behavior.

What I Thought

It’s been a very long time since I’ve gotten to watch a Bogart film with little-to-no prior knowledge about the stories or characters before the opening credits. I knew Bogart played a priest – beyond that, it was all fresh to me.

I really, really liked this film.

Bogart is again paired up with Director Edward Dmytrk, the man who pulled such an incredible performance out of him in The Caine Mutiny, and the collaboration pays off well. Instead of a slightly crazed, by-the-book, ship’s captain though, we have a reserved man of the cloth who’s not afraid of getting his hands dirty when it comes to protecting his parishioners.

I’ll cover Bogart’s character in a bit, but what I really loved about this film was the way that Director Dmytrk isn’t afraid to let conversations, silences, and moments of deep thought linger long past where other directors might cut them off. We don’t only hear discussions about the life changing decisions that are being made; we watch the characters silently emote as they wrestle through their inner conflicts. It’s one of the things that I also enjoyed about The Caine Mutiny, and the concept of letting the camera linger on a shot for more than a few seconds is an art form that seems to have died out sometime shortly after the Classic Hollywood era ended. (Or at least it’s been relegated to smaller independent films since then.)

The scenery here is gorgeous. We get lots of shots of Bogart on horseback in front of rivers or mountains. Much of it seems to be outdoor location footage and not studio back lot sets which gives this small story a much grander feel.

The cast is as good as you could ask for as well. Other than Lee J. Cobb in heavy Asian makeup as the main antagonist, it’s nice to see so many actual Asians cast in the film. The only saving grace from Cobb’s performance is that he didn’t do any sort of stereotyped accent or mannerisms. Midway through the film he has a line to Bogart where he mentions the fact that he attended an American university, and I suppose that’s all the explanation we need as to why he sounds and acts more American than Chinese.

Of all the Bogart films that I hadn’t seen before starting this blog, I count this one as a real gem that I’m quite happy to discover. Some might find the pace to be a little slow, as the film does seem much longer than it’s one hour and twenty-seven minute running time, but the chance to have a second go around with Dmytryk directing Bogart is worth any minor shortcomings that you might find with this film.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart’s pretty well known for playing the reserved anti-hero who’s reluctant to “stick his neck out” until his hand is forced, but yet again, Director Dmytryk is able to pull a performance out of him here that takes his greatest attributes and pushes them a bit further as Bogart portrays Father O’Shea.

I had my reservations about what kind of priest Bogart would be able to play. Would he be so goody-two-shoes that I wouldn’t be able to stand it? Would he be so rough and tumble that I wouldn’t buy him as a man of the cloth? Actually, he played the role fantastically. Yes, there’s a secret about Bogart that’s revealed halfway through the film that affects how we see his character greatly (a secret that’s not all that shocking), but still, I’d go out of my way to visit any parish run by this version of Bogart.

Whereas Director Dmytrk was so good at playing up Bogart’s paranoid and irrational attributes in Mutiny, here we get a character that is so incredibly sympathetic and at ease with himself, that we immediately forgive any misgivings we might have about his behavior. So your priest sleeps with a pistol under his pillow? So what? Did you hear the way he got those kids to sing ‘My Old Kentucky Home?’ Priceless!

Bogart was supposedly pretty sick during the filming of this one, and many breaks were taken to accommodate his coughing fits, but you wouldn’t know it from the final footage. He’s thin, but looks fantastic. His lisp might be a bit heavier than usual, but it’s the best that his hair’s looked in the last five films I’ve watched!

While he’s a bit long in the tooth for the part, it’s still a must see Bogart performance.

The Cast

Gene Tierney’s role as nurse Anne ‘Scotty’ Scott isn’t explored as fully as it could be, but she does very well with what she’s given here. Yes, there’s a short scene where we find out that she’s working in the mission because of a long-past dream of finding her downed fighter pilot husband, but most of the emotional baggage she carries has to do with having a crush on a priest. Still, while there might have been room for some more character exploration here, Tierney does well alongside of Bogart. At least enough so that the age difference isn’t nearly as noticeable as it is in some other Bogart films. Tierney was supposedly in the midst of a mental breakdown during production and had to seek medical treatment soon after it was finished shooting. While none of this was evident during her scenes, Bogart reportedly was a great source of encouragement and support for her on the set throughout the shoot.

E.G. Marshall plays Dr. David Sigman, the head physician at the Catholic mission. It’s not a huge part, as he seems to be there to play devil’s advocate to Bogart, but Marshall is more than capable of fleshing out a smaller character to make him memorable.

Agnes Moorehead plays Marshall’s wife, Beryl. Moorehead is the real treasure here. Again, the part’s not huge, but her scenes with Tierney, Bogart, and Marshall are some of the best crafted in the entire film. Take special notice here of her scene with Marshall as she’s working at a desk while he sits behind her, questioning her about Tierney’s relationship with Bogart. What exactly is her motivation behind diving into the Tierney/Bogart relationship? Is she playing Marshall a bit? How much has she figured out about Bogart’s secret past? Especially since she advises him to cross the mountain to visit the Protestant mission! Moorehead is the queen of subtext here, and I’m excited to watch the film again just to reexamine her performance.

Lee J. Cobb plays the Chinese warlord, Mieh Yang. It’s hard admitting that I liked Cobb here despite how racist his portrayal seems all these years later. Yet beyond the eye makeup, Cobb reigns his Asian eccentricities in considerably, and his scene playing dice with Bogart over the fate of the mission is really well done and creates some of the best tension in the whole film.

Classic Bogie Moment

E. G. Marshall is reading Bogart the riot act about his behavior towards the mission and says, “Don’t depend too much on that collar, Father O’Shea!”

To which Bogart slowly stands, walks over to face Marshall, and replies, “Would you like me to take it off?”

Untitled

Bogart flips the switch from passive priest to tough guy soldier at the drop of a hat and it’s glorious!

The Bottom Line

Don’t believe some of the mediocre reviews. It’s definitely worth a watch!

 

 

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13 thoughts on “The Left Hand of God – 1955

  1. A very good Bogart film indeed. My favorite movie involving a priest though is Keys Of The Kingdom with Gregory Peck, well worth a viewing if you ever get a chance.

  2. I really think is the best Bogart/Bacall film overall. Just a really intense movie from start to finish. Robinson is awesome in here as well. This is just one of those special movies where all the stars and character actors mix so well. The whole ensemble all make huge contributions to this fine script. I’ve always enjoyed Marc Lawrence, can you get a cooler name then Ziggy? The Desperate Hours and Key Largo will always be my two goto films when it comes to Bogey!

  3. There was a time when movies did not always glorify violence, gun play, and killing. A scant one person dies a violent death in this 1955 film, and that happens off-screen and is the predicate for the story that follows. Bogart, still handsome at 55, impersonates a priest and carries this film of modest script with the help of Lee J. Cobb as a Oriental warlord (!). “Weep no more my lady”, sing the children from “Old Kentucky Home”. A nice old touch of the sort that the movie business has forgotten. I love a morality play, and I am so very tired of having to root for the least villainous villains.

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