This may be the only movie you'll ever see where the 'Our Father' and 'Hail Mary' are recited in their entirety. Humphrey Bogart is the reluctant priest Father O'Shea, whose masquerade at first is tentatively welcomed by a small Chinese village, but who through a series of unforeseen events, winds up becoming their savior. The tip off comes in an opening scene, this priest carries a gun. We're left dangling for a while as the story unfolds, and it's not until well past the half way point that O'Shea's identity is revealed to be that of an American flier who crashed in a remote Chinese province some three years earlier. When the real Father O'Shea dies from a bullet administered by Yang henchman Pao Ching, James Carmody sees a way out of his forced service to Yang by donning the vestments of a priest. The romantic tension between O'Shea and missionary Anne Scott (Gene Tierney) is broached but never fully played out. O'Shea is familiarly comfortable in her presence, she's entirely ill at ease to find her feelings being tested. The quandary is dealt with in such a way as to make a resolution virtually impossible, and the finale leaves it that way even when she learns of his true identity. It took a long time for film makers to accept Oriental actors in leading roles. Lee J. Cobb of course is entirely miscast as warlord Mieh Yang, but no more so than Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre or a host of non Asian actors to portray Chinese detectives of an earlier era. Victor Sen Yung proved adequate and believable in a support role as John Wong, the church sexton who challenges Father O'Shea to do the right thing when the situation calls for it. It seemed appropriate that he begin the legend of the Shen-fu after the fate of seven villages is secured via a game of chance. I found it interesting that Sen Yung and Benson Fong appeared in this film after both saw work in the 1940's as the Number #2 and #3 sons of Charlie Chan. Curiously, they never appeared as brothers together in any story during the series. Admittedly, Fong's role in this one was almost a throw away, as distraught husband Chun Tien whose wife died giving birth to a dead son. For his part, Sen Yung would continue his later career in the employ of the Cartwright's on The Ponderosa. For sentimentalists, the film's payoff near the end might bring a trickle to your eye. The young Chinese villagers offer their best rendition of 'My Old Kentucky Home' as Bogey's character is allowed to keep his secret by the Bishop's emissaries who replace him. That, along with those incredibly lucky rolls of the dice, might lead you to believe in Hail Mary endings.
The Left Hand of God
The Left Hand of God
At a Catholic mission in China, long-awaited "Father O'Shea" proves to be a tough guy, disturbingly attractive to mission nurse Anne.
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April 6, 2019