—Great Hitchcock-like Thriller—
Your Bogie Film Fix:
Director: Curtis Bernhardt
A wealthy engineer (Humphrey Bogart) murders his wife (Rose Hobart) hoping that he can then move on to her younger sister (Alexis Smith). The only problem? The supposedly dead wife continues to be a presence in his life. Did she survive? Is it a ghost?
What I Thought
Here’s another film that at the time of its release received some mixed reviews, but I thought was really good.
Conflict could be put with The Caine Mutiny and In a Lonely Place for a night of films themed “The Paranoia Trilogy.” This is another great performance by Bogart where we get to watch him slowly fall apart within his own mind as he begins to question his sanity.
The performances are all strong, and while I don’t want to blaspheme the great Alfred Hitchcock, I thought Conflict’s script and noir-ish feel was much akin to Hitchcock’s Suspicion, or even the earlier Rebecca. If you like suspenseful thrillers, this film will be right up your alley. The murder scene on the mountain pass is especially chilling, and it’s the first time that I’ve ever been watching a Bogart film and felt that his character was truly evil.
There are a few small hitches I found with the script. While I thought the twist was done well, it does open up a lot more questions than it answers. Without revealing too much, when you watch it, just consider how much work the final protagonist had to put in to do the things that had to be done. Cryptic enough? In particular, think about the scene where Bogart thinks he’s following his wife into the apartment building and then confronts the landlord.
On the flip side, after the film is said and done, rewind back to the initial scene where Bogart is sitting in his house with the police and Sydney Greenstreet. Rewatching that scene after knowing the crucial twist from the ending gave me an all new appreciation of Greenstreet’s ability to play subtlety.
All in all, it was great to see a film where Bogart and Greenstreet were good friends, and the direction of the film makes me excited to watch Director Curtis Bernhardt and Bogart’s other collaboration, Sirocco.
The Bogart Factor
With Bogart’s portrayal of Richard Mason, we get an even more paranoid and dangerous version of The Caine Mutiny’s Captain Queeg and In a Lonely Place’s Dixon Steele. Both Queeg and Steele were characters, who by the very nature of their true intentions, were able to garner sympathy from the audience. Mason on the other hand, is just a true sociopath. No matter how charming he might seem, once the murder takes place, we can’t forget what’s really boiling beneath the surface.
Bogart’s played characters that were unlikable before, but they were often the stock-gangster bad guys who really posed no real threat to the protagonist. Or, even if the bad guy was a more powerful central figure (Duke Mantee, Roy Earle, etc.), we find ourselves in quiet awe as we respect him in the same way that we might so many other outlaw antiheroes of cinema history. This isn’t simply a man who’s fighting his darker urges, this is a man who’s fully given over to his most evil intentions in order to redesign his entire life. The moment that Mason pushes his wife’s car over the cliff, our sympathies lie fully with Alexis Smith and Sydney Greenstreet as we hope and pray that they figure out what’s going on before it’s too late.
Overall, I thought Bogart hit all the right notes. It’s a much more subdued paranoia than he played with Queeg or Steele.
Sydney Greenstreet plays psychologist Dr. Mark Hamilton, family friend to Bogart’s Dick Mason. How great is it to not only see Greenstreet play a good guy in a Bogart film, but to see them actually chum around a bit before things get tense? Greenstreet is so good as the warm and gregarious Dr. Hamilton that you just want to give the big guy a hug. He seems truly happy in the role.
Rose Hobart plays Kathryn Mason, the wife that Bogart murders. I thought that Hobart did a great job of playing Kathryn as the disgruntled spouse who just wants a little more love from her husband. Director Bernhardt did a fine job of portraying a realistic married couple who struggles privately while putting on a good face for the public.
Alexis Smith plays Hobart’s younger sister, Evelyn Turner – the woman that Bogart kills for. She does pretty well here, although I didn’t feel quite enough chemistry between Smith and Bogart to believe the infatuation he has for her. Perhaps if she’d been characterized as a little bit more of a friendly flirt who lots of guys fall for? I don’t know. Other than the chemistry factor, I thought she was solid.
Charles Drake plays the young professor Norman Holsworth who is pursuing Alexis Smith, potentially foiling Bogart’s plans. He was all right here, but it’s an underwritten role, and Drake is mainly used for plot advancement.
Classic Bogie Moment
How often did we get to see Bogart and Greenstreet sharing a scene as friends? Well, here they are! I’ll give this weekly spot on the blog over to a moment where we get to enjoy the two men as allies:
Make Sure to Notice
Wait! What’s that just over Bogart’s head?!? Could that be the Maltese Falcon? Looks like it! Although it resembles the falcon on the novel’s cover more than the one from the John Huston film, it’s still a wonderful inside joke for this Bogart-Greenstreet collaboration:
The Bottom Line
Conflict is a must see and a little underrated in my opinion!