Conflict (1945): Curtis Bernhardt’s Noir Thriller, Starring Bogart, Alexis Smith, Sydney Greenstreet

German-born Curtis Bernhardt directed Conflict, a suspense film noir, produced by William Jacobs, starring Humphrey Bogart, Alexis Smith, and Sydney Greenstreet.

Grade: B (*** out of *****)

Conflict
Conflict 1945 movie poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

The screenplay by Arthur T. Horman and Dwight Taylor was based on the story “The Pentacle” by Alfred Neumann and Robert Siodmak.

Is the only teaming of Bogart and Greenstreet of the five in which they acted together, in which Bogart rather than Greenstreet is the villain or corrupt character.

There is also a cameo appearance of the Maltese Falcon statue, from the classic 1941 noir thriller, The Maltese Falcon, the movie that had made Bogey a star.

Narrative: 

Richard and Kathryn Mason appear to be a happily married couple. But on their fifth wedding anniversary, Kathryn accuses Richard of having fallen in love with her younger sister, Evelyn Turner, who is visiting them.

He does not deny it. He has resigned himself to leaving things as they are, since Kathryn certainly would not grant him divorce, and Kathryn uses this to deride him further.

At a party celebrating the couple’s anniversary, hosted by family friend and psychologist Dr. Mark Hamilton, Evelyn meets with Mark’s handsome young colleague, Professor Norman Holdsworth.

Kathryn slyly mentions to Evelyn that their mother is lonely, knowing that Evelyn will feel obligated to move back home. Angered, Richard crashes their car and suffers a broken leg.

Richard takes a desperate action, when he pretends to require a wheelchair even after his leg has healed. His puzzled physician, Dr. Grant, diagnoses the problem as psychological, not physical.

The doctor suggests exercise, and car trip to a mountain resort is arranged. At the last minute, Richard contrives to stay home to finish some work.

Going on ahead, Kathryn stops by Hamilton’s home and asks him to check in on Richard.

Resuming her journey, Kathryn comes upon an abandoned parked car blocking the narrow mountain road. Unexpectedly, Richard walks threateningly out of the fog.

The audience is left to imagine him killing her. He pushes her car down a steep slope; it dislodges some logs which crash down and hide it.

He returns home in time to set up alibi by meeting with employees he had summoned to finish the work. In their presence he twice phones the resort, only to be told she has not arrived. He then notifies the police that she is missing.

When the police find a pickpocket in possession of a cameo ring, Richard and Evelyn identify as Kathryn’s; the man admits to stealing it from a woman matching Kathryn’s description (after her disappearance).

Then Richard smells Kathryn’s perfume in their bedroom. Upon finding her key to a safe, he opens it and sees her wedding ring is inside.

Mark suggests Richard and Evelyn join him on fishing vacation to relieve the strain. Mark also invites Holdsworth, who asks Evelyn to marry him.

She is undecided, and when she tells Richard, he believes he is the cause of her hesitation. He declares loves her, and hopes she feel the same about him, but she denies it. Later, realizing his mistake, he encourages Holdsworth to try again.

Things change, when a pawn shop claim ticket is mailed to Richard, addressed in his wife’s handwriting. At the pawn shop, he finds Kathryn’s locket and her signature in the register, but when he returns with the police, the register is different and there is no locket.

Finally, he sees a woman on the street who looks and is dressed like his wife. He follows her, only to find that the home is vacant, with no one inside.

Unable to reconcile these occurrences any, Richard returns to the crime scene to see if Kathryn’s body is inside the car. But Hamilton and the police are waiting for him. Kathryn’s body had been found and removed, and Richard is arrested.

Hamilton reveals he had been onto Richard since Richard’s interview with the police. Since Hamilton’s suspicion wouldn’t be enough to secure conviction in court of law, Hamilton and the police worked together to stage the events that made Richard suspect Kathryn was still alive, hoping he would return to look for her body, and thus prove his crime.

The movie was filmed in 1943, but its release was delayed until 1945, when dispute over the rights to part of the story had been settled.

Meanwhile, Warner decided to produce another, similarly-themed movie, The Two Mrs. Carrolls, also starring Bogart and Smith, along with Barbara Stanwyck. The release of this film was also delayed, and it appeared in 1947.

The film became memorable for using the song ‘Tango of Love’ as leitmotif to indicate the putative reappearance of Kathryn, with the background strings translating the scent of perfume.

The opening trucking shot through the rain-soaked night up to the window of the Mason house is impressive, allowing the audience to eavesdrop on the dinner party.

Bogart, who did not care about his image, or about his fans reaction, fully immersed himself in appearing cold and sinister, while  he steps out of the shadows to murder his wife.

The film received mixed reviews, but it was commercially popular, cashing in on Bogart’s popularity at the time as Warner’s most bankable make star.

Made against a budget of less than $1 million, it earned $2,265,000 domestically and $1,442,000 in foreign markets.

Cast
Humphrey Bogart as Richard Mason
Alexis Smith as Evelyn Turner
Sydney Greenstreet as Dr. Mark Hamilton
Rose Hobart as Kathryn Mason
Charles Drake as Prof. Norman Holsworth
Grant Mitchell as Dr. Grant
Patrick O’Moore as Det. Lt. Egan
Ann Shoemaker as Nora Grant
Edwin Stanley as Phillips

Credits:

Directed by Curtis Bernhardt
Screenplay by Arthur T. Horman and Dwight Taylor, based on The story “The Pentacle” by Robert Siodmak and Alfred Neumann
Produced by William Jacobs

Cinematography Merritt B. Gerstad
Edited by David Weisbart
Music by Frederick Hollander

Production and distribution company: Warner Bros.

Release date: June 15, 1945

Running time: 86 minutes
Budget: $774,000
Box office $3,707,000

Note:

TCM showed the movie on November 3, as part of a tribute to character actor Sidney Greenstreet.

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