Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Left Hand of God (1955)



“When medicine reaches a point where it never has to walk hopelessly away from a case, then you can criticize the Church because it left some... spiritual illness uncured.” 

            I found the Left Hand of God to be odd. Not odd as in the story or the setting but odd in its casting of the characters. I found this film a while ago when I was searching for Gene Tierney films. When I saw that Humphrey Bogart was in this film as well I did a double take because I could not believe he had been paired with Gene Tierney. I have not against Tierney I adore her but Bogart is usually paired with tough women and in films where he plays a tough guy Tierney, well, she is hard to categorize she was in so many types of films and played so many different characters but she is not the type of actress I am used to see opposite Bogart. You could argue that his pairing with Audrey Hepburn was odd as well but so was the story for him. Anyway, The Left Hand of God was good it was not bad it was just good.
            The film opens on a priest (Bogart) riding on a donkey in the pouring rain. He goes to cross the bridge with the donkey but the small wooden bridge collapses and he falls into the river. We find out that the priest is named Father O’Shea and has come to replace the priest who had passed away. Almost as soon as O’Shea arrived at the mission he is asked by a young nurse named Anne Scott (Tierney) to give the last rites to a dying patient. O’Shea seems a little uncomfortable about doing so but does it for Anne.
            O’Shea is told by the mission doctor that he wants to see the place close down, the people have stopped coming because they do not understand why sometimes their loved ones cannot be saved with modern medicine or how a god can let his priests die. The villagers are very happy to have a priest back at the church they have been waiting to be either married or baptized for a very long time. After his first mass, though, he sees a man enter the gates of the village, he walks over to the man, and beats him. There is no reason at first why he did what he did.
            Anne has been struggling with her feelings for O’Shea. She is ashamed that she has feelings for a priest and that she is committing a sin but cannot bring herself to confess that to him. Beryl (Agnes Moorehead), Doctor Sigman’s wife, can see that Anne has feelings for the new priest and tells her that she should leave and return home to America. Beryl and the doctor also begin to believe there is something strange about O’Shea he does act or think like a priest.
            Jim later confesses to a man in another village that he is not a priest but a man named Jim Carmody who was shot down near the mountains during the war. He was found by a war lord named Yang who treated him well but was still a prisoner. One day one of the men working under Yang killed a passing priest. Jim as captain under Yang was very upset about this especially because he told the other men there was to be no killing unless he said so. When the priest dies Jim sees this as his opportunity to get away from Yang. Jim tells the man he is speaking to that he will write a letter to the bishop to explain what he has done.
            Yang happens to be the war lord who has been threatening the village for some time. When he finds Jim he attacks the village. The doctor wants some of the villagers to fight against Yang but Jim tells him no, that Yang is only coming for him. Jim tells Yang they play the dice game that Yang likes to play, if Jim wins Yang is to let him go and never bother the village again and if Yang wins Jim will work for him for five more years. Well needless to say Jim wins and the people are saved by who they thing is a savior and a miracle.
            The two priests who have come to speak to and replace Jim tell him that he is to leave the village but he must leave with his cassock on so he can keep up appearances. He had told Anne about what he had done the night before. She still feels guilty about falling in love with a priest but feels a bit better knowing that Jim was not really one. Jim leaves the village on horseback to cheering crowds.
            So, not the most interesting or extraordinary story ever but it was not boring and the performances were all very good. Humphrey Bogart, usually a gangster or a wronged tough guy having to prove his innocence, is a character who is good pretending to be a priest. As soon as I read a synopsis of the film I just said “ok” to myself and plugged along. To me it was a little unsettling to see Bogart in a priest’s cassock after seeing him in so many of his gangster films from the thirties and his detective films in the forties. Gene Tierney really has nothing to do in the film besides to add an unneeded love interest aspect that totally does not work. I will say she looked beautiful in color her eyes were so incredibly blue. This is the first time I have ever seen Agnes Moorehead play a character that was not all creepy and strange and that I found weird.
            The Left Hand of God is an alright film. As I said the pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Gene Tierney is a bit odd. It is not a film I would highly recommend tracking down unless you are a big Bogie or Gene Tierney fan.