CONFLICT (director: Curtis Bernhardt; screenwriters: Arthur T. Horman/Dwight Taylor/from a story by Robert Siodmak and Dwight Taylor; cinematographer: Merritt B. Gerstad; editor: David Weisbart; music: Frederick Hollander; cast: Humphrey Bogart (Richard Mason), Alexis Smith (Evelyn Turner), Sydney Greenstreet (Dr. Mark Hamilton), Rose Hobart (Katherine Mason), Charles Drake (Prof. Norman Holdsworth), Grant Mitchell (Dr. Grant), Pat O’Moore (Detective Lt. Egan), Wallis Clark (Prof. Berens); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Jacobs; Warner Brothers; 1945)
“A routine melodrama.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Humphrey Bogart plays a wife murderer in this flawed film noir. Director Curtis Bernhardt leaves the plot with too many artificial devices to be effective. The film was completed in 1943 but wasn’t released until 18 months later. It’s based on a story by Robert Siodmak. Both Bernhardt and Siodmak were ex-patriots and used German expressionism to color the film. The film makes use of the song “Tango of Love” as its leitmotif to indicate the possible return of Bogie’s murdered wife.
Richard and Katherine Mason (Humphrey Bogart and Rose Hobart) seem in public to be a happily married couple, but in private Richard is unhappy and the marriage is far from ideal. Richard has secretly fallen in love with his wife’s younger sister Evelyn Turner (Alexis Smith), something his wife confronts him with–saying a divorce is out of the question.
Psychologist Dr. Mark Hamilton gives a party to celebrate the couple’s fifth anniversary, where he also invites Evelyn and tries to fix her up with his young colleague Prof. Norman Holdsworth (Charles Drake). On the way home on the rainy night, Richard skids off the slick road and breaks his leg. Evelyn and Katherine are not injured, but Richard becomes confined to a wheelchair. After five weeks, he conceals that he is able to walk by remaining wheelchair-bound.
Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.
Richard, a wealthy architect, coldly calculates a plan to murder his wife on a car trip to a mountain resort, where he’s to receive therapy. At the last minute, Richard stays home to finish a work project and has Evelyn go on alone. He surprisingly appears out of the shadows and blocks the deserted road with his car. After strangling her and pushing her car off the road, Richard returns home to use his employees as an alibi. But when Katherine is reported missing, Hamilton suspects Richard of a crime when he slips by saying in his description to detectives that Katherine was wearing a rose. Hamilton gave Katherine the rose after she left her husband, something he couldn’t possibly know.
Hamilton works with the police to plant evidence to make Richard suspect that his wife is still alive, as Richard becomes haunted by the prospect his wife is still alive. Hamilton’s line “Sometimes a thought can be like a malignant disease and eat away the will power,” captures the theme Bernhardt was shooting for but couldn’t quite successfully get across. Instead it plays as a routine melodrama, and even seems leaden in spots. The only thing that can’t be faulted was the earnest performances of Bogie as the tortured killer and the supporting cast of Warner Brothers regulars.
REVIEWED ON 10/27/2004 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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