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!

 

 

Sirocco – 1951

Sirocco

My Review

—Not as Casablanca-ish as You’ve Been Told—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

3.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Curtis Bernhardt

The Lowdown

A black market gun dealer (Bogart) sells weapons and ammo to the Syrians as they revolt against their French occupiers in 1925, only to fall in love with the girlfriend (Märta Torén) of the French Colonel (Lee J. Cobb) in charge of French Intelligence.

What I Thought

The bar on this one had been set pretty low by everything that I’d read and everyone that I’d talked to before I watched it. I was told over and over again – this was a weak attempt at recreating the magic of Casablanca.

I got Sirocco as one of the five films from the TCM box set ‘Humphrey Bogart: The Columbia Pictures Collection.’ During the film’s introduction, Ben Mankiewicz acknowledges the criticism that the film has received for aping Casablanca, but he also points out that watching the film removed from the era helps the enjoyment of it quite a bit. I would agree 100%.

Yes, we have expatriate Bogart involved in some criminal operations in a foreign occupied country. And yeah, there is a woman involved, who also happens to be involved with a man who’s doing his best to become a martyr for his cause. But I think Sirocco does a good job of finding its own legs as it diverts away from many of the more iconic qualities that we think about when we consider Casablanca.

First and foremost, Harry Smith is a much darker criminal than Rick Blaine. Whereas Blaine ran an under-the-radar casino that was actually favored by the local law, Smith is supplying the weapons that are aiding the Syrians to actually kill the French in charge. If discovered, Smith knows he would almost certainly be shot.

Blaine lives low profile, rarely leaving the nightclub and never sticking his neck out when there’s trouble. Smith, on the other hand, is required to live in a constant state of danger as he dodges bullets, stalks darkened alleys and underground catacombs, and risks his neck every time he goes after a paycheck.

But above all, one character describes Smith as a man with, “no morals and no political convictions.” While the same accusation was essentially made against Blaine, I think much of it was an act that he was ready to drop in a heartbeat when finally faced with a life and death decision that could impact the entire war. With Smith, it’s dead on.

Beyond that, I think it could be pretty easily argued that Sirocco isn’t even a Bogart vehicle nearly as much as it is a showcase for Lee J. Cobb as he plays the French military man in charge of smoking out Bogart’s gun ring. I think we’re supposed to be rooting against the French as we cheer on Bogart. But Bogart’s portrayal is just seedy enough, and Cobb’s is just righteous enough, that it’s not hard to sympathize with the French occupier who defies his own commanding officer to bring a truce to the bloody battle.

We watch Cobb slowly melt down under the pressure of finding the gunrunners while at the same time trying to salvage his relationship with Märta Torén, who is clearly ready to end the relationship and move on to a darker and more mysterious Bogart.

After you watch the film and see what both Cobb and Bogart go through during the last act of the film, try and imagine the role of Harry Smith played by someone less legendary than Bogart. I’m pretty sure that if an unknown had been cast in the role, Sirocco would be considered Cobb’s film to make or break.

This is the second film I’ve written up by Director Curtis Bernhardt, the first being Conflict, and what I’ve really come to appreciate is the way that he often lets scenes play out not for plot advancement, but for character color. Especially check out the scenes where Bogart’s lounging in the barbershop or the nightclub when we get to watch him just exist for a few moments in the environments with his costars, as if nothing more important was happening in the rest of the world.

The Bogart Factor

He’s very good here. The script doesn’t give him quite as much nuance as Rick Blaine, but I enjoyed seeing him play a real anti-hero. If Bogart had made the decision to leave the girl behind, or shoot his way out of being arrested, it would have been believable. Director Bernhardt does of great job of setting up Harry Smith as a man who is just in it all for the money. Once he’s got enough, he’ll probably disappear, moving on to the next conflict where he can make a quick buck at the expense of a lot of dead soldiers.

I like dark Bogie a lot. This character is probably more on par with someone like Roy Earle – a likable criminal who you almost want to root for, even though he’s a part of some pretty awful behavior. Check out the scene where he takes the cigarette back from Torén and smokes it despite the fresh blood that’s on the end of it.

The Cast

Lee J. Cobb plays French Intelligence officer Colonel Feroud. Cobb does a really nice job here of painting a man that’s incredibly noble, and yet incredibly flawed at the same time. He’s the only man in Damascus who seems to want the fighting to end without any more bloodshed, but at the same time, he loses his temper and attacks the woman he loves. I want to watch it again just to spend a little more time focusing on his performance rather than Bogart’s.

Everett Sloane does wonderfully as the over-taxed, and sometimes iron willed, French officer Gen LaSalle, and it’s his pressure on Cobb’s subordinate officer that gives the final act its true stakes.

Märta Torén plays Cobb’s girlfriend, Violette. Again, like so many of the other characters in this film, Violette is not an easy person to love, and we never fully know if she’s actually interested in Bogart, or if she just wants to use him for an exit from the country. It’s a completely contrary role to Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa, and Torén holds her own very well against Bogart and Cobb.

Nick Dennis nearly steals the film as Bogart’s sidekick and gunrunning partner, Nasir. I really enjoyed Dennis here, and I want to see a lot more of him. I defy you to pick any scene that he’s in and not smile at least once.

Zero Mostel plays one of the other black marketeers that’s in league with Bogart and Dennis. It’s not a huge role, but I was surprised to see him again in another Bogart film after The Enforcer. I’ve always enjoyed Mostel a great deal, and he’s a perfect fit for this nervous nelly role.

Classic Bogie Moment

So . . . your favorite nightclub just got blown up with you inside? The room is filled with smoke, blood, and the screams of women? Might as well have a smoke and a drink, right? Check out Bogart and Nick Dennis keeping it cool here:

Bogie Classic Sirocco The Bottom Line

This one’s well worth a watch. Some of the posters even use the tagline, “Beyond Casablanca,” and I think it could make a great double feature with the cinema classic.