Swan Songs

November 14, 2011 | By

Sorry folks, but this tender moment NEVER HAPPENS in the film.

Twilight Time’s latest DVD release  – The Left Hand of God [M] (1955) – (limited to 3000 and available only via Screen Archives Entertainment) features a really lovely transfer of this extremely peculiar drama that isn’t wholly satisfying, but maintains a strange aura of sadness because it marked the career swan songs of its two leads, Humphrey Bogart and Gene Tierney. Both actors still appeared in a few films, but certainly for Bogart, the sadness is being aware he was a mere two pictures away before cancer stole him from the art form that gave fans so much pleasure.

According to historian Julie Kirgo, Tierney was battling mental illness during production, and she retired from feature films, taking a break of sorts for seven years before re-emerging in much smaller parts in a mere handful of films.

Fox remains my favourite studio (with RKO being a close runner-up) because its in-house production style was glossy yet snappy; films generally moved fast and there was little fat in the scripts the studio produced – qualities carried down by production chief Darryl F. Zanuck, who established the same storytelling style when he was production chief at Warner Bros. during its crime film years.

I also grew up watching a lot of Fox films on TV, and perhaps part of the attraction to the studio was the combination of logos, signature themes, and a talent pool that frequently showed up again and again in every kind of genre. Zanuck reportedly had a big production timetable on his desk, and would regularly slot actors and character actors in roles because they were after all on the payroll.

The downside for many was typecasting, but the upside was seeing the top-tier thespians appearing in many films, of which Lee J. Cobb may be among my favourites. He’s played cops, rogue Spaniards during the Inquisition era, and in Left Hand, a Chinese warlord – not exactly politically correct, but one gets the sense Cobb knew his assignment was absurd, the makeup looked preposterous, and it was insulting to have a white dude play an Asian, so he played it tongue in cheek using a gregarious persona that often simmers throughout the performances in his 40-year career, of which most may recognize him as Lt. Kinderman in The Exorcist [M] (1973). His is one C.V. worth exploring, because many of his films are indeed available on DVD.

Typical of the era (and well into the seventies), Asian actors played tertiary roles in Left Hand. Victor Sen Yung is best-known as No. 2 son is a string of Charlie Chan films, if not numerous TV appearances, whereas Philip Ahn played the genuine Asian in TV’s Kung Fu (as Master Kan). Benson Fong also appeared in several Charlie Chan films as No. 3 son, but his career was less prolific.

The pedigree within Left Hand is top-notch, but it’s unusually short for a major feature. 87 mins. is fine, but one suspects there may have been extra scenes – perhaps longer flashbacks of Jim Carmody’s past or living / hiding out in the village and interacting with locals – that were excised to keep the pacing lean. The film’s also aided by Victor Young’s strong score which makes use of a lovely central theme for the pair of impossible lovers, and big sound for the dramatic highpoints that must have boomed through the cinema when the film was shown in its original surround sound mix.

In any event, do check out the DVD review, and I’ll have a quartet of soundtrack reviews next, followed by Mortal Kombat: Legacy (Warner Home Video), which makes its debut on Blu-ray this week.

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Mark R. Hasan, Editor
KQEK.com ( Main Site / Mobile Site )

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Category: EDITOR'S BLOG, FILM REVIEWS

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