Monday, 14 February 2011

The Left Hand of God

The Left hand of God has a great screen play for a moving story of the power of faith. This 1955 film was one of those which took my birth and care mothers together with their elder sister to the cinema as I reached adolescence and went to work at the age of sixteen and discovered live classical music, traditional and modern Jazz together with Swing, cycling and of course sex. There was the opportunity see the film once more, experienced at least once previously on the small screen. The story, based on a book by William Edmond Barrett, is that of an American Pilot who crashed in China during World War II and who is rescued by a Warlord who treats him as a trusted friend but also as a prisoner. When a replacement Catholic missionary priest Father O’Shea is killed by one of the men, the former pilot, Jim Carmady, played by Humphrey Bogart, takes his identity as a means of escape and goes to the mission for sanctuary until the next protected caravan will take him to the coast and freedom.

The Missionary post comprises a clinic hospital with an all purpose doctor and his wife who runs the school, and a nurse played by Gene Tierney, a young widow. The doctor has become cynical and anxious because of the local villages have stopped bringing their sick, the country is approaching civil war and anxiety about the warlord who so far as left them and the nearby Anglican mission alone. He and his wife feel there is something not quite right about their new man and becomes even more concerned when the nurse begins to show indications of reacting to the new arrival as a man.

It is evident that the arrival is a Catholic with a knowledge of the church in that he can give a blessing, and a sermon, but evades saying mass or giving the last rights saying he has lost his vestments and other essential kit which will have to be replaced. His live in assistant advises that some forty marriages and thirty christenings have accumulated. He begins to have an impact by asking to be blessed by the oldest man in the nearest village, by being able to speak Chinese and proving he is a man of the people with their interests at heart. On one hand he begins to like the role but on the other realises the potential damage he is doing. Unknown to everyone he manages to get a letter through to the Bishop in which he reveals the situation and the needs of the community. When he gets word that two priests are being sent by caravan he decides to tell Tierney the truth the night before their arrival.

Previously, his whereabouts becomes known to the Warlord who descends on the village threatening to burn it and the neighbouring Anglican parish to the ground unless Bogart returns. Bogart offers to play dice for his and the village freedom giving himself up for a further five years if he loses. He wins twice to save his and then the Anglican parish. This makes him a local legend. The priests arrive and tell Bogart that he will remain as a priest until he reaches the Bishop. Bogart has offered himself to be subject to the discipline of the church in exchange for responding to the needs of the local community. The senior priest is impressed by the genuine affection the community has for the departing man and Bogart leaves we are given the impression that the priest will write the kind of report to the Bishop suggesting that Bogart should be trained for the priesthood. Tierney has also rediscovered her faith as the situation becomes clear to her. The Doctor and his remain in ignorance but they too have found their calling reinforced.

Bogart is not as convincing in the role of the priest as Richard Burton in his role as the Whisky priest but has far more authenticity than say Bing Crosby in The Bells of Saint Mary. Lee J Cobb is also convincing as the Warlord and a good script and al round good acting make this film memorable

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