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!

 

 

Passage to Marseille – 1944

Passage

My Review

—Very Good—

Your Bogie Fix:

4.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

Come slip down the rabbit hole as we have a movie that exists almost entirely in a flashback – but not just a flashback – as it’s a flashback within a flashback, which I think even delves into another flashback!  Worry not, though, as director Michael Curtiz is well skilled in the art of filmmaking, and guides us easily through the multilayered story.

Claude Rains is Captain Freycinet, commander of an Allied air base that’s about to launch a bombing raid out of England.  John Loder is a reporter named Manning who sits down with the Captain and hears an amazing tale of five Devil’s Island escapees who are rescued from their ocean-adrift canoe by a steam tramp that’s headed to Marseilles, France during World War II.

The catch?

The steam tramp has a delegation of English and French officers onboard (including Capt. Freycinet), and mid trip, word breaks that the French have submitted to German occupation.  The escaped prisoners are all patriotic Frenchmen trying to make it home to fight, and the English officers onboard would kindly appreciate it if the ship would change course for England.

Even before France’s occupation is announced, though, we know that there’s trouble afoot because French officer Major Duval, is on board, played by the wonderfully snarky Sydney Greenstreet.  Duval immediately pegs the prisoners as escaped convicts from France, and when it’s discovered that the Germans are now in charge of his home country, the Major can’t get there quickly enough to show his support to the new occupiers and turn over the prisoners to the proper authorities.

What ensues is a climactic battle between the steamer and a German bomber as Freycinet and the prisoners try to keep the ship in one piece long enough to make it back to safe waters.

Bogart plays one of the five prisoners, a French reporter named Jean Matrac, who ended up on Devil’s Island after being framed for murder.  Matrac saw the corruption of the French government growing long before the rest of the world did and is shipped off to the prison after printing a series of tell-all articles in his paper.  His goal after the escape?  Make it home to his wife, Paula, played by Michèle Morgan, who worked side by side with him in the newspaper office until it was shut down.  Matrac also has a son he’s never met, who we meet before the flashback, anxiously waiting for a letter from his father to be dropped from a bomber after a raid.

Unlike the other four convicts who escaped Devil’s Island with him, Matrac is unsure of his allegiance to his former country.  Consumed with bitterness and revenge, we’re not sure where his allegiances lie until he’s forced to make a choice and fight.

Joining Bogart as another one of the convicts is Peter Lorre as Marius, in what I found to be one of his most likable roles (despite the fact that he’s a convicted felon!).  Perhaps the biggest highlight of the movie is getting to see Bogart and Lorre team up against a German bomber while wielding two on-deck machine guns.  Watching them offer friendly waves back and forth across deck as they take shots, and avoid shots, was great fun.  Bogie and Lorre – action heroes!  Believe it or not.

marius 2Peter Lorre waving to Bogart across the deck while battling the German bomber.

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The entire movie is said to be a slightly missed attempt at recreating the magic that was Casablanca, as so many of the cast and crew return from that movie including director, writer, composer, producer, and at least five other actors.  Perhaps I’m far enough removed from the era, but I thought that my love for Casablanca only enhanced my enjoyment of this film.  The story is much more action oriented, and it comes off as more of a prison escape movie rather than a war romance.

I’ve only done limited research, but I wonder how much the solitary confinement scenes from Passage influenced the ones in Papillon.  It would make a fun double feature!

The Great

Michael Curtiz directed a lot films in his long and prolific career, and while not all of them were gems, his classics outweigh his bombs.  Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood, Angels with Dirty Faces, White Christmas, We’re No Angels, etc.  Curtiz had the skills to make amazing films.  Just the way the multiple flashbacks are handled without confusion shows a director with a fine hand at storytelling without losing an audience.

Bogart plays dark and brooding like no other.  If you like his action oriented roles, this will satisfy you greatly.  The interrogation scene with Freycinet and the prisoners is especially well acted by Bogart as he directs the other men with nothing more than subtle head nods.  The man knew how to do a lot with just a little.

Bogart, Rains, Lorre, and Greenstreet together?  Fantastic.  While none of them have the depth of character that they had in Casablanca, this was a fun film to assemble them for again.  Rains especially nails his role during a funeral in the final moments of the movie.

The Good

Even catching sight of the wires on one of the bomber miniatures doesn’t bother me.  I love the special effects from the classic years of Hollywood.  Water tanks and boats built on set.  Miniature bombers.  Matte back drops.  I’ll take this stuff over CGI any day.

While Michèle Morgan doesn’t get quite as juicy of a role as Ingrid Bergman did, she still plays great against Bogart.

Classic Bogie Moment 

No words.  Just a pic this time.  C’mon, we know Bogie’s good with a gun, but how classic is this?

passage classic

The Bottom Line

I loved this movie.  It’s not the best-of-the-best from Bogart’s collection, but it’s in the top half for sure.  I get such a charge out of seeing Bogart and Lorre together, especially when they’re on the same side.  That machine gun scene on the boat is worth the price of admission in itself.  Peter Lorre is the man!

Fun Fact

According to IMDB, this is the movie where Bogart met Bacall!  She wasn’t in the movie, but was on set to test her chemistry against Bogart’s for a little movie called To Have and Have Not.

The Petrified Forest – 1936

pf

My Review

—A Great Film—

Your Bogie Fix:

4.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Archie Mayo

The Lowdown

Alan Squier (Leslie Howard) is a drifter / writer / hitchhiker making his way across the U.S. when he walks into a little gas station café in the Arizona desert for a “bar-bee-cue.”  Gabby Maple (a young, gorgeous, bright-eyed, yes I have a crush . . . Bette Davis) is the café owner’s daughter who waits on Squier, quickly falling in love with him.

Squier is an intellectual and Gabby is an intellectual in the making.  With a fifteen year age difference between Howard and Davis, it’s a May-December romance that’s easy to believe since both actors exude charm from every pore of their bodies.  But, alas, it’s a romance not to be.  Howard’s Squier is a depressed wanderer at heart, and he’s just wise, mature, and intellectual enough to know that he shouldn’t get involved.  Whatever emotional baggage he’s obviously carrying below his plucky surface, it’s enough to keep him from returning Gabby’s advances.  So Squier heads out the door on his way to see the Pacific, and Gabby reluctantly stays behind in the café with her dreams of becoming a Parisian artist on hold and a lunkhead gas station attendant named Boze nipping at the hem of her dress.

Enter Duke Mantee, played by Humphrey Bogart in what most consider his breakout role.  A gangster on the run after a shootout in Oklahoma, Duke’s car happens to break down just a few miles away from the café, just before Squier’s hitched ride passes by and stops to help.  Within minutes, Duke and his gang have commandeered a new ride, and Squier is left on the side of the road, watching the gangsters head straight towards Gabby’s café.

Squier returns to make sure Gabby’s okay, of course, and what follows is a tense and gripping hostage situation where Howard and Bogart get lots of time to shine in roles they were both born to play.  As the story goes, Howard was the one who demanded Bogart play the part of Mantee after they played the roles together in the original stage production.

It’s no wonder why it was a star making turn for Bogart, as he adopts a tone, style, and mannerisms for Duke Mantee that I don’t believe he ever surpassed in any other role.  Both IMDB and his biographies claim that Bogart studied bank robber John Dillinger for the role, and the character work done here is nothing short of Bogie’s best.

The Great

Bogart physically becomes a violent, desperate, dangerous gangster.  From the moment he appears on screen (about 35 minutes into the film), he is a rubber band wound tight, and the viewer is just waiting for his inevitable snap.

He walks hunched with his hands held slightly out at the waist.  It gives you the impression that he’s either going to draw his gun, or strangle someone at any moment.

I cannot imagine any other actor playing the role of Duke Mantee as well as Bogart does.  It’s clear that Bogart worked hard to embody the gangster from top to bottom.  I almost began to wonder if he was even able to sweat on command as the movie ramps up to its violent, dramatic conclusion.

Bette Davis, who looks and seems to be playing younger than her 28 years here, is so cute and fun that it’s almost too unbelievable that Leslie Howard would choose to leave her at the beginning of the film.  If the sight and flirtations of a budding Davis can’t break a man out of depression, what could???

Leslie Howard portrays the depressive intellectual wonderfully, and his playful banter with Bette Davis is both the heart and the backbone of the film.  We believe that Howard’s mind is stimulated by Davis’ thirst for more in her life.

The script, which is said to stay very true to the original stage play, offers this group of actors a lot of great dialogue and story to work with.  So many times, a filmed play seems like just that – a play on film, but Archie Mayo adapts this story wonderfully.  It wasn’t until Bogie’s off-screen death scene that I remembered that The Petrified Forest was meant for the stage, and sticking close to the original script is probably why we don’t get to see Duke go out in a blaze of glory.

It’s been written about a lot before, but director Mayo’s use of the buffalo horns behind Bogie’s head is a wonderfully subliminal way of giving us a demonic look at the unstable Mantee.

The Good

The supporting cast is quite good, and there are a lot of great comedic moments spread throughout the movie.

Joe Sawyer’s portrayal of Mantee’s henchman, Jackie, is particularly fun – a role he also originated on stage.  When he taunts the gas station attendant Boze, there seems to be real enjoyment in his cruelty.

Porter Hall and Charley Grapewin do very well in their respective roles as Dad and Grandpa Maple – giving the movie a good dose of its comic relief, and Bette Davis just enough henpecking to remind us why she wants out of the café.

Classic Bogie Moment 

Joe Sawyer’s Jackie narrates Bogart’s entrance as he announces, “Now, just behave yourself and nobody’ll get hurt.  This is Duke Mantee, the world famous killer, and he’s hungry!”  And there stands Bogart – a wild, edgy, dynamite stick of a man who’s ready to blow up at any moment.

Director Mayo gives Bogart some of the best close ups he would ever get.  The sneer.  The sweat.  The trembling lip.  The sunken, desperate eyes that dart around the room.  Bogart does as much with just his face in this movie as most actors wish they could do with their whole bodies.

This portrayal should be a textbook example for all actors on how to really lose yourself in a role.  While Bogart would go on to play other desperate, edgy characters, I don’t think any come close to Duke Mantee.

The Bottom Line

There’s no argument needed as to why this was Bogart’s breakout role.  From script to cast, this movie is tight and entertaining.  This was a role Bogie was born to play.  Sit back and enjoy.

Fun Fact

Warner Brothers apparently wanted Edward G. Robinson for the role of Duke Mantee.  While I can understand how Robinson would have lent instant credibility to a gangster film, I don’t know if he could have played Mantee as dangerously dark as Bogart was able to.  There was always just a hint of humor in too many of Robinson’s roles.  (Although, if they’d shot an alternate-Robinson version, I’d be the first in line to make a comparison!)