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Left Hand of God, The (DVD Review)

28 Nov, 2011 By: Mike Clark

Available at www.screenarchives.com
Twilight Time
$19.95 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Humphrey Bogart, Gene Tierney, Lee J. Cobb, Agnes Moorehead.

In the final 18 months before his death at 57 on a mid-January day that generated lots of disbelieving discussion on my fifth-grade playground, Humphrey Bogart had four movies go into release: three in ’55 and The Harder They Fall in ’56 (it blessed by one the most juicily representative performances a superstar ever went out on).

Of the ’55 trio, God wasn’t last in distribution chronology; it came out about a month before William Wyler’s underrated The Desperate Hours. But it was the last one filmed, and in CinemaScope/color, Bogie’s physical condition looks somewhat shakier here than it does in Fall’s black-and-white. At least to me.

This is one reason why director Edward Dmytryk’s movie of a novel by William E. Barrett (also of Lilies of the Field) is more interesting outside the frame than in it. The other is the actor’s co-star. For about a decade or maybe a sliver more, Gene Tierney had been one of Twentieth Century-Fox’s biggest attractions until a well earned mental breakdown that extended beyond this picture slowed her career (it also aged her). God was her last movie until she returned briefly to the screen as a character actress in the 1960s. By her own account in 1979’s Self-Portrait (a candid and very good star autobiography), she was in really rocky shape here, and Bogart gave her a lot of help.

Against all this, the movie is only middling — though at just 87 minutes, it’s short enough to be a serviceable time-killer. Bogart’s first close-in shot is fairly arresting: here is in priest garb but packing some serious heat (“OK, Louie, drop that Host”). The year is 1947, China is in civil war, and Bogie is in reality a pilot who crashed and ending up working for a warlord played by Lee J. Cobb (in, of course, heavy makeup). After a while, enough is enough of these labors, and he elects to take over the identity and garb of a dead priest. He eventually makes his way to a mission whose inhabitants (Tierney, E.G. Marshall, Agnes Moorehead) think he is the real deal, which complicates matters when Tierney starts to fall for him. If you want to see what a great filmmaker does with this kind of material, there’s always John Ford’s kinetic swan song 7 Women, which is set about a dozen years earlier.

Twilight Time has given this its usual pro rendering, and the print looks good, with California and some first-class production design standing in for more exotic locales. In TT fashion, the musical score is isolated on a separate track; this time, it’s by the great Victor Young, who was such an unbelievable workhorse that it’s no surprise he dropped dead at 57 almost exactly a year later before he got a real chance to wallow in the artistic/popular success of his score for Around the World in 80 Days. In her final feature, that’s Jean Porter (the real-life Mrs. Dmytryk) in more Chinese makeup in a brief frolic with Bogart (not in his priest garb, which the Production Code wouldn’t have allowed, even if it had made plot sense). And yes, that’s a pipe Bogart is smoking in one or two scenes, which always stops me, given that the actor’s death was due to lung cancer.

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