Lately, I’ve been on a huge Humphrey Bogart kick, with my obsession going to dramatic lengths after my recent purchase of Bertie Higgins’ 1982 CD Just Another Day In Paradise. For readers under 40 or naysayers of Charmin soft pop music, Mr. Higgins wrote and performed the Top Ten hit “Key Largo,” which featured the catchy refrain, “We had it all, just like Bogey and Bacall.”
What doesn’t exactly quite have it all, but has way more than enough, is the recent MOD (manufactured on demand) DVD release Conflict. One of Bogart’s lesser known pictures, the 1945 feature is based on an original story (titled The Pentacle) by The Killers filmmaker Robert Siodmak and Alfred Neuman.
Richard Manson (Bogart) is an engineering executive trapped in a loveless marriage with his shrewish wife Katherine (Rose Hobart). Any flicker of passion between the two has extinguished, as only has eyes for Katherine’s sister Evelyn (Alexis Smith). A girl next door type with only love in her eyes, Evelyn utters such lines as “It doesn’t matter what happens to people as long as they have something to live for,” words which put Richard down an even deeper emotional hole.
After a dinner held by their psychiatrist friend (Sydney Greenstreet, commanding the screen as usual) to celebrate their fifth anniversary, Richard drives his spouse and sister-in-law home. But it’s a rainy night, and a quick glance at Evelyn through the rear view mirror distracts him just enough to crash his vehicle, leaving him wheelchair bound for weeks. From the comfort of his chair, he hatches a seemingly foolproof way to murder his spouse on a deserted mountain road.
His plan starts off without a hitch, as a luckless ex-convict is arrested in suspicion of the killing. But Conflict is a straight up film noir, and whether it’s a cop, a killer, a private eye, or a femme fatale’s latest victim, fate has a way of evening the score. After receiving a phantom phone call and finding traces of Katherine’s belongings (a locket, a kerchief) in random places, Richard wonders if his wife is a ghost, or worse, still alive.
Bogart wasn’t too thrilled with Conflict’s screenplay, and he originally rejected the role, a decision which didn’t sit well with Warner Bros. honcho Jack Warner. Under contract with the studio, Bogart eventually relented, and even if it’s not one of his more memorable roles, Conflict has its merits, thanks to the direction of German born filmmaker Curtis Bernhardt and solid performances from all the leads.
With a prolific directing career in Germany behind him (as well as several European pictures), Bernhardt started off in Hollywood by signing a seven picture deal with Warner Brothers. Merging German expressionist touches and studio system drama, Bernhardt creates a killer swallowed up in his own darkness, lost in the shadows of a suffocating telephone booth, limping his way back to the scene of the crime. Conflict is a picture right out of Fritz Lang’s cinematic oeuvre of fatalism, and it’s a surprise Bernhardt, who would direct two subsequent Warner Bros. noirs (A Stolen Life with Bette Davis and Possessed, starring Joan Crawford), is a name one wouldn’t put next to Siodmak, Jacques Tourneur, or Lang.
The DVD also comes with an overly dramatic (but highly welcome) trailer for Conflict, and it features appearances from Bogart and Greenstreet (they’re both in character) discussing Katherine’s murder. “Never has the screen presented a more daring motion picture,” reads the scrawl as the trailer closes. “(A) Powerful drama which lays bare the innermost soul of a man torn between two loves – caught in the inescapable conflict of his overpowering emotions. It’s Humphrey Bogart at his best.”
I’ve seen better, but if you’re sick of watching Casablanca or The African Queen, Conflict is an easy on the eyes bedfellow, especially if your heart belongs to noir.
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posted by Greg Srisavasdi (Twitter: @gsrisavasdi)