In Review: The Left Hand of God (1955) on DVD

by Daniel Goodwin on 08/05/2014

Left hand of god

There’s something about the grand 50s Cinemascope/ Vistavision films that are so synonymous with that time; their essence and character have never totally transcended into other eras of cinema.  This was a time when 3D was first widely employed and the medium became embellished with epics of a grander scale.

Spawning several classics and stars, despite being so visually sumptuous and breathtakingly cinematic, these films are now mostly associated with Sunday afternoon/ tea-time viewing, not on the big screen where they are their most majestic. Edward Dmytryk’s The Left Hand Of God (1955) is a lesser effort of the era but has many wonderful qualities.

Humphrey Bogart portrays heretical priest “Father O’Shea”, who is sent to run a Catholic mission in a mountainous Chinese province. O’Shea bonds with the locals, who are taken in by his unorthodox manner, delivering sermons in their native tongue and treating rogue outsiders with a gruff surliness (by punching them in the stomach), soon becoming a respected figure in the community. But O’Shea falls for a local village girl (Gene Tierney) and it soon emerges that Father O’Shea may not be the man he seems.

The Left Hand Of God’s story slows in the first half due to a drought in dramatic vigour, while colourful characters lacking substance are not convincingly conveyed. It is interesting how the town doctor (EG Marshall) bonds with O’Shea despite their conflicting beliefs but this relationship is underdeveloped, with too much emphasis placed on the trite romantic sub-plot that is executed with clumsiness and stale sentimentality not suited to O’Shea’s character. The Technicolor landscapes with operatic scores and gaudy characters are fitting to the central concept, but offset by corny dialogue, a weak sub-plot and below-par performances.

A back-story relating to O’Shea and a local warlord (Lee J Cobb) hell bent on looting and leading the village during the time of civil war, is explored and tied neatly to a resolution but there are too many flaws in the dawdling middle that make The Left Hand Of God little more than a reminder of the greater films of the time. It is pleasurable and heart warming but doesn’t quite pull its weight.

No extras.

Daniel has awarded The Left Hand of God (1955) on DVD three Torches of Truth

3 torches cropped

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