The Left Fist of God


“They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.”

I’m thrilled to suddenly learn that Humphrey Bogart was born on Christmas Day. So were Sissy Spacek, C.C.H. Pounder and Rod Serling, but of the four Bogart incontestably makes the best casting as Jesus. I mean, Rod would be great except it’s literally impossible to picture him without a cigarette. Bogie without a stogie is like the Great Sphinx without her nose: diminished but still imposing.

The Warner Bros Jesus film I’m picturing, which could be called DISCIPLES WITH DIRTY FACES, is quite easy to put together using Blue Sky Casting:

Humphrey Bogart — Jesus Humphrey Christ (You always wondered what the “H” stood for, right?)

 James Cagney — John the Baptist

Conrad Veidt — Caiaphas

Sidney Greenstreet — Herod

Claude Raines — Pilate

Peter Lorre — Judas

Ann Dvorak — Mary Magdalene

Marjorie Main — Mary, Mother of God

Edward G. Robinson — Little Barabbas

Allen Jenkins — First crucified thief  (Because Allen Jenkins crucified is an amusing thought.)

Hugh Herbert — Second crucified thief (Because Hugh Herbert crucified just seems right.)

Plus the Dead End Kids as the Disciples.

42 Responses to “The Left Fist of God”

  1. My favourite screen Messiah is Pier Maria Rossi in the Rossellini film Il Messia.

  2. I wish they’d film Gore Vidal’s Live from Golgotha: “Jesus waddled up, as broad as he was tall.”

  3. I’m also very fond of Pasolini’s La ricotta.

  4. I can’t believe you haven’t got Elisha Cook, Jr, in there. He had a face born to play Biblical ne’er-do-wells. Imagine his Lazarus, amazed and dismayed at being returned to life, smelling his decomposing robes and rolling those eyes.

  5. Oh, he’d be a great Laz. Or possibly a grateful leper.

  6. I think Willem Dafoe was a great Jesus, it was a nice touch to play an unconventional Jesus who was not immediately charismatic as Jeffrey Hunter or Max von Sydow are, or that Spanish student who did a dissertation of Pasolini’s poetry. Sergio Leone said “That is the face of a murderer not Our Lord.” I doubt very much a nice guy like Jesus would care about such things. Pierre Clementi in ”Le Lit de la Vierge” is also terrific though that’s not really a religious film in any sense.

    Bogart as Jesus I can’t really picture. Although Bogart’s description of himself, “Episcopalian by upbringing, liberal in politics and dissenter by disposition” would fit the guy who said that a Prophet is understood everywhere except in his own home and by his own people. And Bogart’s unsuccessful march to protest the blacklist makes him worthy certainly. On the other hand you have the bit with that Panda, his marriage with his third wife(which included an attempt on his life by said woman).

    On the other hand I much prefer James Cagney as Jesus. “Listen here you dirty money changing rat…love thy neighbour.” or when he’s on the cross, he sees Mary and goes, “Made it Ma…Top of the World” instead of “It is Accomplished” in the Gospel of John. Bogart would make a better Saint Peter, the deep regret about denying Jesus three times forcing him to being a reluctant leader of the Apostles and being very sardonic but a nice tough idealist deep down.

  7. Mmmm, I’m liking the Cagney idea. The pieta at the end of The Roaring Twenties makes it irresistable. “He used to be a bigshot.”

  8. And since it’s Warner Bros. that means there’s space for a swell musical number!

  9. Busby Berkeley could have a great time with such material — his musical numbers do feature a surprising number of death scenes.

  10. The Gene Kelly self-mutilation scene in For Me and My Gal is fantastically grim and effective, Busby should have done more of that kind of thing…

  11. Combustibillion Says:

    How I’ve been waiting for a Bogart, Lorre, Greenstreet, Raines reunion.

  12. I’m sure THIS produced many causalties.

  13. Apart from killing a bunch of people with his drunk driving, Busby has fictional fatalities in the production numbers of Roman Scandals (the slave market), 42nd St, and at least one of the Gold Diggers films, I think. Mel Brooks’ Spanish Inquisition number is not far from the truth.

    A Busby Jesus with Cagney in the lead would be quite something. Although I can’t quite see Ruby Keeler as the Magdalene. But Toby Wing, yeah…

  14. A friend of mine has a picture of Jesus in his bathroom. Bela Lugosi as Jesus, and the likeness is impressive.

  15. Well, Mel Gibson’s s&m version of Jesus was pretty heavy on the Romanians.

    “Thees…ees my bludd you drinhk!” Bela had plenty of practice rising from the dead, too.

  16. Well Lugosi drank other people’s blood while Jesus was sharing his own blood. The connection between the Christian rituals and the vampire legends was made in Coppola’s Dracula where a wedding recital of that offering is cross-cut with Dracula feasting on someone’s blood. Coppola was raised Catholic of course, though to what extent I don’t know.

    Or why not Cary Grant, the suave sophisticated son of God. Mr. Grant would probably preach the following lines from Oliver Gogarty’s ”The Ballad of Joking Jesus”(famously appropriated by his pal James Joyce in ”Ulysses”)


    I’m the queerest young fellow that ever was heard.
    My mother’s a Jew; my father’s a Bird
    With Joseph the Joiner I cannot agree
    So ‘Here’s to Disciples and Calvary.’

    If anyone thinks that I amn’t divine,
    He gets no free drinks when I’m making the wine
    But have to drink water and wish it were plain
    That I make when the wine becomes water again.


    Now you know I don’t swim and you know I don’t skate
    I came down to the ferry one day and was late.
    So I walked on the water and all cried, in faith!
    For a Jewman it’s better than having to bathe.


  17. Dracula does offer some of his own blood up to Mina in the book, and in some of the films.

    Jimmy Stewart? A Jesus you can trust!

  18. Well maybe Stoker(who was Anglican) borrowed that from Christian rituals.

    Jimmy Stewart as Jesus is too obvious. Henry Fonda too, certainly, he played Christlike figures in ”Young Mr. Lincoln”, ”The Grapes of Wrath” and ”The Fugitive”. Maybe Gary Cooper, who after seeing ”Good Sam”, I now consider one of the screen’s greatest actors.

    Wait how about Sterling Hayden, he has the greatest death scenes in ”The Asphalt Jungle” and ”The Long Goodbye”, it’d make him logical for the greatest death scene in recorded literature, and of course who can forget the immortal line in ”Johnny Guitar” – “Besides…I am a stranger here myself!”

    For some reason I can’t picture any British actor as Jesus. Too many Bible films with Romans having British accents…maybe Alec Guinness can do it. Or unconventionally minded people can turn to Alistair Sim.

    Busby Berkeley’s musical numbers are quite daring in how they see violence. Let’s not forget his tribute to his war buddies at the very end of ”Gold Diggers of 1933”, one of the most effective and everlasting anti-war moments in film history.

  19. Toby Wing as the Woman Taken In Adultery? Nah … on second thought, I’d opt for Kay Francis.


    For what it’s worth, I used to attend the church where Bogart had his funeral: All Saints Bevery Hills (Episcopal). Also the parish of Jayne Mansfield, I discovered, chancing upon an old This Is Your Life with my old rector standing beside La Mansfield.

  20. She liked being photographed with holy men, another was Anton LaVey.

    Hmm, a British Jesus? Robert Powell played it, after Bruce Robinson demurred (he feared Zeferrelli was trying to get into his pants). Oliver Reed is very Christlike in The Devils, and actually makes the part moving, which I rarely find it. He’s also nicely ROBUST.

  21. Bruce Robinson’s Jesus would have been something to see. With nails…

  22. He was incredibly gorgeous, but a slightly limited actor in those days.

    Malcolm McDowell?

  23. I think the time is right for a cheeky Jesus.

  24. Skinniness is a major factor, you have to be able to look good in a loincloth. Russell Brand maybe?

  25. I think Peter O’Toole would’ve done just fine as Jesus, skinny enough certainly. Cheeky? He’s capable. He was actually rather Christlike as Lawrence, Yes? No? Think of his flogging by Jose Ferrer. Not exactly swarthy, but Christ as depicted in an Anglo-Saxon sort of way, which is common enough.

  26. He played him in The Ruling Class

  27. ———-
    Skinniness is a major factor, you have to be able to look good in a loincloth.

    Not really. As ”The Last Temptation of Christ” pointed out, crucifixions were done in the nude. That was based on the director’s research on crucifixions in that period. The loincloth was added much later by prudish painters who were afraid of painting their Lord’s thing. So it depends on someone who’s willing to let it all hang out.

    Malcolm McDowell as Jesus would obviously counterpoint with the deadly parody of Biblical films in ”A Clockwork Orange” which is amazingly prescient in the wake of Gibson’s film. Not a very good film but that bit was terrific.

  28. The trouble with the nude crucifixion is the prudishness that then comes in, with Willem Dafoe’s legs being curled upwards to protect his modesty. I guess that’s because a) they didn’t want the added controversy of a full-frontal messiah, and b) Willem Dafoe has been named as a member of the “hung jury”, the best-endowed men in Hollywood. It might be distracting if the audience were thinking “Look at the size of Christ’s cock!”

    O’Toole is comically perfect as Christ in The Ruling Class, he’s like one of those colour postcards with the eyes that open.

    McDowell “helping with the tolchoking and the nailing in” does seem to prefigure Gibson’s sm fest.

  29. Having never seen The Ruling Class, I had no idea. So I guess I’m not too far off the mark. Another one I’ll have to catch up with. Yes, I just don’t think the world at large is ready for The Penis of Jesus, better that it remain an object of conjecture. I recall years ago seeing a painting done by a local artist that showed Jesus sitting on a bed painting his toenails. The image left quite an impression on me, a favorable one.

  30. Well, if you absolutely must wear sandles, at least seeing that your toenails are well turned out is de rigeur.

  31. “The Penis of Jesus” is remindful of the climax of Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw.

  32. Ah, the Churchill member. “Parts of the Great Man were even found embedded in my mother.” Orton had an amazing gift for figuring out exactly what would cause the most outrage in certain establishment figures, and presenting it in an absurd context so as to make that outrage ridiculous.

  33. WILLIAM Powell as tipsy Jesus. Nice big suffering eyes but just the right measure of insouciant cheek to get him through the day. Hangs around with criminals. That would have been great. Myrna Loy as Magdalene. And a young Jimmy Stewart as Judas. Actually it’s blowing my mind how good this film would have been. Rains as as a Vichy Pilate. Sleep ‘n’ Eat as Simon Peter?

  34. Wow! If you go for Powell, maybe just use the whole cast of My Man Godfrey? Lombard as Magdalene, Eugene Pallette as Pilate, Mischa Auer as Judas?

  35. Fine! DON”T take it seriously…

  36. great call on Ann Dvorak!

  37. Those eyes have seen every commandment violated!

  38. Luke Kelly would have made a great Christ. And the man sure could sing:

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