Left Hand of God, The (1955): Dmytryk’s Religio-Political Melodrama, Starring Bogart and Gene Tierney

Edward Dmytryk directed The Left Hand of God, an implausible religio-political melodrama, produced by Buddy Adler.

Set in a small American mission in China in 1947, during a civil war, it stars Humphrey Bogart as a hunted man masquerading as a Catholic priest and Gene Tierney as a nurse.

The screenplay by Alfred Hayes was based on William Edmund Barrett’s novel “The Left Hand of God.”

The supporting cast includes Lee J. Cobb, Agnes Moorehead, E. G. Marshall, and Carl Benton Reid.

While playing Anne Scott, Tierney became ill. Bogart, who was close to his sister suffering from mental illness, was sympathetic, feeding Tierney her lines and encouraging her to seek help.

The tale begins with Catholic priest Father O’Shea making his way to a remote mission in China to replace a priest who had been killed.

While there, he meets Dr. David Sigman, Sigman’s wife Beryl, and nurse Anne Scott, the only other Western residents, who run a hospital for the  villagers, at a time when competing warlords and communists are engaged in civil war.

O’Shea delivers his debut Sunday sermon, in English and Chinese for appreciative parishioners. His work and his respect of local customs earn him their allegiance.

Anne becomes uncomfortable as she is romantically attracted to him. Beryl suggests to her husband that Anne be sent back to the United States, but he refuses, needing her at the hospital.

Beryl suggests that O’Shea consult with Reverend Martin, a Protestant minister at another American mission, for advice.

When O’Shea meets Martin, he makes a startling confession, that he is not a Catholic priest, but Jim Carmody, an American pilot who had flown supplies over The Hump during World War II.

He crashed during the war and was rescued by a local warlord, General Yang, becoming his trusted second-in-command. When one of Yang’s soldiers killed Father O’Shea, Carmody decided to masquerade as the replacement priest.

After recounting his story to Martin, Carmody writes an account to the Catholic bishop.

General Yang tracks down Carmody with an army, insisting that Carmody resume serving him. Carmody proposes to settle the matter in a customary game of dice, wagering five years’ loyal service against his freedom and the safety of the local villagers.

Yang loses, but he coerces Carmody into playing again, this time for the future of the Protestant mission. When he loses again, Yang resigns himself to perpetuating the myth of Father O’Shea.

In the end, before leaving the mission, Carmody tells Anne the whole truth.

The plot, always shaky and often outlandish, lacks any credibility or  sincerity of mood. The original novel must have provided more detailed and logical characterization than the script of this film.

Other drawbacks include obscure character motivation and, perhaps unintentionally, an unpleasant mock religiosity.

Even Bogart could not rescue this picture, and here he renders a tired, uneasy performance that failed to suggest the character’s inner dilemma.

By today’s standards, the movie would be considered racist, not least due to the casting of Lee J. Cobb as Yang.

Humphrey Bogart as James Carmody
Gene Tierney as Anne Scott
Lee J. Cobb as Mieh Yang
Agnes Moorehead as Beryl Sigman
E. G. Marshall as Dr. David Sigman
Jean Porter as Mary Yin
Carl Benton Reid as Father Cornelius
Victor Sen Yung as John Wong
Philip Ahn as Jan Teng
Benson Fong as Chun Tien