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Monday, December 13, 2010

The Late Show: The Last Films Blogathon

David Cairns over at his outstanding site Shadowplay is inviting posters on the topic of final (or nearly so) efforts by film luminaries. By all means, go there for links to fine reading and be sure to visit Shadowplay often.

There were few rounds left for Humphrey Bogart when he did The Left Hand Of God. It's regarded less fondly by admirers, what with HB in priest garb pretty much throughout, a calling not heretofore associated with a mostly man of action. LHOG looked particularly bad on television too, its Cinemascope panned/scanned with drabbing color. I was intrigued at fourteen by opener shots of apparent Father Bogie pistol-armed, this a beguiling departure from HB norm. The Left Hand Of God was not written for its star. Kirk Douglas had been announced several years earlier, then Gregory Peck mere months before Bogart suited up for what trades said was ten percent of gross. Originating as a novel serialized in Redbook, The Left Hand Of God seemed a property any square-jawed lead men would prosper in ... so why not Peck or Douglas? ... or even Jeff Chandler? ... but not an actor of Bogart's stature, from whom everyone expected finer things. Fox bought the dog-eared package, in development since 1951, with maybe an idea hit-maker Peck could deliver again. Bogart surely recognized cigarette burns on the script to give notice he was down a list of choices. This had been the case a year previous with Sabrina done in wake of Cary Grant's turn-down, a slap but barely assuaged by first billing and attendant payday. How could anyone have honestly told Bogart he was ideal for these parts when so obviously he'd been a last resort? The Left Hand Of God was miscarried by Howard Hawks, with William Faulkner writing, a dream team Bogart once played on. Now there might have been a Left Hand Of God we'd remember, had HB been invited, but he and Hawks were on more-or-less outs since The Big Sleep, and neither looked to reuniting (sad how picayune conflicts robbed us of so many collabs that might have been ... or continued being). Would Hawks have made irreverent sport of The Left Hand Of God? Maybe knowing a Production Code and watch-dogging Catholics wouldn't permit such levity caused him to back off altogether. Posterity (and all of us) are poorer for it.

1955 was late for Bogie to wander too far off-character, so there are spasms of fisticuffing, for trailers and ad art if not dramatic purpose. The Left Hand Of God has not so far been released by Fox DVD (will it ever?), but Spain offers a rendition worthy of this must-have for HB completists. All they'll need know is this: He's in Cinemascope for a first/only time, and onscreen for near all of 87 minutes, though I like The Left Hand Of God for reasons beyond these, prominent being Victor Young's lovely score, plus directional stereo, justification aplenty to buy. A limited edition soundtrack was issued through Screen Archives and has liner notes with unseen (by me) color stills from transparencies apparently not carted off by Fox employees over the years. I mention the CD by way of strongly recommending same (it's on as background now, in fact).

Bogart health issues play into all of what he did from '54 on, tinting our impression of The Left Hand Of God and ones before and aft. I was relieved watching that he didn't have to go far to locations (all within H'wood driving distance). LHOG is class Hollywood meditation upon moral issues lightly aired before a wrap-up pre-determined by years of repeated application. It's a one (and only?) Bogart I know to tackle religious themes, a genial switch as he's good here at conscience stricken and puts over what Douglas or Peck might have left limp. Ever see Bogie at a piano leading a kid's group sing? He does in The Left Hand Of God, and in fairly pleasing voice (suppose HB ever sang around the house?). See enough of his minor work and you appreciate less expected things Bogart does in such shows off beaten path. He approaches wizened for love scenes with Gene Tierney, awkwardness of a clinch averted courtesy the priest wrinkle. Tierney was just this side of breakdown, Bogart alone seeing signs early (a sister similarly afflicted), so was solicitous beyond patience accorded actresses not pulling weight on his 50's pics (Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner among these). Gene Tierney remembered and wrote glowingly of HB in a memoir years later, impressive evidence that needling Bogart wouldn't pick on the truly helpless. For his part, this star habitually nervous when jobs weren't backed up and waiting was now barely getting through ones that came through. Left Hand director Edward Dmytryk told of awkward waits for Bogart to finish coughing lungs out before light-up of a Chesterfield to usher in the next jag.

There were also back problems, these dating at least to days on 1943's Sahara that sidelined Bogart. Was it the money that kept him humping? Two children and a wife required support, enough to propel HB onto back of a mule for LHOG (a physical ordeal, said Dmytryk), but this actor was competitive and preferred staying in harness so long as a public paid. Lauren Bacall remembered fees as not extraordinary, Bogart bitching over what the Coopers and Grants earned as opposed to himself, indication that maybe they were in it more for cash than he (producers likely knew same, thus advantage theirs). HB loved his craft, increasingly so with mastery of it --- you wonder if he'd have acted for free. Bogart living longer is a thing to ponder. Instead of becoming a 60's cult figure, imagine him working through that decade. There are LHOG flashbacks where HB's bearded out in soldier-of-fortune leather and, holy smokes, looks Gabby Hayes-old. A judo chop rendered on a kid half his age gets by only because it's Bogie and we've seen him toss heavies countlessly before, right down to the upper lip snarl for a blow-off. Now with action's quotient reduced, it's fun watching Bogart relax and verbal- engage fellow players, however workmanlike dialogue is. Like so many great stars near a finish, he's summing up decades of professionalism and craft. To deny oneself such vintage wine is to miss much of what was best in this player. Servings of The Left Hand Of God and others of curtain descending were what I experienced first of HB, and so remain sentimental favorites despite admittedly stronger WB's seen later at less impressionable age.
More Humphrey Bogart at Greenbriar Archives: China Clipper, San Quentin, Dead End, The Maltese Falcon, Across The Pacific, To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, Tokyo Joe, The Caine Mutiny --- Parts One and Two, Sabrina, and Birth Of The Bogart Cult.


Anonymous Kevin K. said...

I've often wondered what Bogart would have been like had he not abused his health. He was only 57 when he died -- he could have had another 20 years of character and guest roles. My fantasy is Martin Scorcese casting him in a scene, any scene, in "Taxi Driver." I like the idea of an aging, cynical Bogart sneering at the young punk De Niro. For my money, Bogart is far better than Cooper or Peck; his eyes alone convey more emotion than any "tough guy" actor of his time. Who else could make a Ku Klux Klan-type heel in "Black Legion" seem almost sympathetic by the end of the movie?

8:23 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I think Bogart might have kept going, with a reduced level of fisticuffs, and his voice and manner registering all the toughness the role required. Exhibit A for me is "We're No Angels," which has no physical action at all. When Bogart tells villain Basil Rathbone that all he wants to do "is to take care of you personally," the viewer is well aware that this is the old Duke Mantee speaking!

10:09 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Here's the playdates for my county:

October 4-8, 1955 - CAPITOL THEATRE

December 25-26, 1955 - SALISBURY DRIVE-IN

January 8-9, 1956 - ROCKWELL THEATRE

September 1, 1956 - 601 DRIVE-IN
double-billed with THE ROAD TO DENVER

12:03 PM  
Blogger Dugan said...

Love your picture with Laughton and the ladies from "Night of the Hunter."
I am also impressed that you were actually able to finish "The Left Hand of God," that film had a stunning lack of non action which finally did me in. At least "The Desperate Hours" and "The Harder They Fall" were a little more Bogart like. As he got older he was playing very interesting variations on his tough guy persona in films like "Sabrina, Beat The Devil and The Barefoot Contessa." It would have been interesting to see where it could have went.

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Originating as a novel serialized in Redbook, The Left Hand Of God seemed a property any square-jawed lead men would prosper in ... so why not Peck or Douglas? ... or even Jeff Chandler?

Mitchum, please.

Jeff "The Sandman" Chandler is never preferred.

1:51 PM  
Anonymous Ed Watz said...

Best line for me in LHOG comes when missionary E.G. Marshall asks Father Bogie why the bishop would send a new priest to a town about to be ransacked and destroyed by the local Chinese warlord. Bogie's retort, delivered in patented HB style: "The bishop and I ain't exactly buddies."

1:00 AM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

Hmmm...positing an extra 20-25 years to Bogart's life span prompts this idea for a movie from that alternate universe: Martin Scorsese's 1975 remake of Treasure of the Sierra Madre with the inspired stunt-casting of Bogart as Howard, Walter Huston's old role, and with Robert De Niro as Fred C. Dobbs and Jeff Bridges as Curtin.

2:45 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

John, I'd love to see you do an article on Bogart's last film "The Harder They Fall".....for my money one of the best "sports films" ever made, and it still holds up well today....

7:52 PM  
Blogger Tom Ruegger said...

Favorite line from this post: "There are LHOG flashbacks where HB's bearded out in soldier-of-fortune leather and, holy smokes, looks Gabby Hayes-old." Hilarious!

8:14 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...












12:02 AM  
Anonymous Richard said...

Another excellent post; I have never seen the film and have always been fascinated by it; reading this entry about the film is the next best thing!

And regarding its current availability, let's hope this post is a prescient one! The Left Hand Of God would be an excellent candidate for the upcoming new "Twilight Time" company releasing limited editions of 1950's and 1960's Fox films!

12:51 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Richard, I checked out that "Twilight Time" announcement and it is great news indeed! So glad to see Fox scope titles coming on limited edition DVD, including long-time wants "The Egyptian," "Violent Saturday," and "April Love." Thanks for alerting me to it.

1:29 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

... And James, I will be doing a post on "The Harder They Fall," as it is an all-time favorite Bogart and there are some nice images to put up with the text. Sometime in 2011, hopefully ...

1:31 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

"A judo chop rendered on a kid half his age gets by only because it's Bogie and we've seen him toss heavies countlessly before, right down to the upper lip snarl for a blow-off."

Funny how the judo chop was used as the miracle act of violence for aging movie stars. Like Spencer Tracy dispatching Lee Marvin (or somebody) in Bad Day at Black Rock with what's basically a tap on the shoulder.

So try to think of a role Bogart would have played in his 60s or 70s. The father in Hud? One of The Sunshine Boys? Barzini in The Godfather? Hard to imagine exactly what...

10:22 PM  
Blogger StevensScope said...

I've always liked Bogart in anything Warners, and nothing much else after his split from that studio. However, I've always liked "THE LEFT HAND OF GOD", and all the more as his ONLY venture in 'scope, and 16mm prints of this film were struck in TECHNICOLOR. Granted, it could have been much better, or at least, a little longer with a better ending, for sure. Seems like they just wanted to get it out quickly. Wonderful music scored by the very neglected Hugo Friedhofer. So glad that Twilight Time released this awhile back, and it looks great! It's a dream come -true for many of us cheering on their efforts towards releasing the FOX-SCOPES-- and granting that wish to a very thankful arena. (The separate music soundtrack is one of the outstanding 'extras'-- provided with EACH film they release!). (2018)

3:28 PM  

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