Thursday, December 27, 2012

Humphrey Bogart's dud

I've suggested before that every actor, even the great ones, have at least one not-very good movie in their career. Now, I don't want to criticize actors for movies they made on their way up, when they didn't have so much control over what parts they were given. Besides, something like The Return of Doctor X is much too much fun to be considered a dud. On the other hand, you have to feel bad for Bogart and everybody else involved with The Left Hand of God, which is airing tonight at 9:45 PM on TCM.

Bogart starts the movie showing up as Fr. O'Shea, the new priest for a Catholic mission in one of the more remote areas of China, during the war-torn years before the Communists succeeded in throwing the Nationalists out to Taiwan in 1949. The mission is in a parlous state because there's local warlord activity going on, and the doctor in charge of the mission (EG Marshall), together with his wife (Agnes Moorehead), are thinking about closing up the mission. Their nurse Anne (Gene Tierney), for her part, finds herself attracted to Fr. O'Shea, which is a bit of a problem since Catholic priests are supposed to be celibate.

Anne should be wary of Fr. O'Shea, but not because he's a Catholic priest. In fact, O'Shea isn't a priest, but a man with a past. His real story is that he's Jim Carmody, a fighter pilot who was working for the Nationalists in the war against Japan, but his plane got shot down, and he wound up being taken prisoner by the local warlord (played by Lee J. Cobb, of all people). Jim was them impressed into service as the warlord's second-in-command . When he saw that O'Shea had been murdered by the warlord in a raid, however, Carmody decided that this might be a good chance at an escape, by assuming O'Shea's identity. Of course, you know the deception is eventually going to be discovered by the warlord....

The idea behind The Left Hand of God isn't a bad one, and you've got a bunch of well-known actors, including character actors who were good in a lot of the things that they did. However, The Left Hand of God doesn't reach the level you'd think it should. Instead, the movie gives of an atmosphere that everybody is going through the motions. This is one of Bogart's last movies, so I don't know how his health was by this time. Gene Tierney would eventually suffer a nervous breakdown, although again I'm not certain how long after this movie that occurred. But that ought not excuse the character actors. Cobb is miscast, and perhaps everybody else doesn't get much chance to have fleshed-out characters.

Although The Left Hand of God falls flat, it's still worth a viewing. It's on TCM tonight as part of an entire night of movies Tierney did at Fox, which perhaps should give us hope that TCM is going to be able to get the rights to more movies from Fox. The other five movies are in print on DVD, and I've also blogged about all of them before. The Left Hand of God got a DVD release at some point since you can find it at Amazon, but it doesn't seem to be in print.


Anonymous said...

I think a lot of Bogart's choices after he ended his spell at WB are flawed. THE LEFT HAND OF GOD is weak but it is well filmed in scope by Dmytryk.
I've always been disappointed by SABRINA, which has Bogart, William Holden, Audrey Hepburn, John Williams and is directed by Billy Wilder and still doesn't really work.

Ted S. (Just a Cineast) said...

I think he picked a winner with The African Queen, though. ;-)

As for Audrey Hepburn, she made some movies that I really like, especially Wait Until Dark, but I get the impression from some of her fans that we're supposed to like her because she was a fashion icon and a graceful figure, regardless of whether the movies are good. The more I think about it the more I too am underwhelmed by Sabrina.