Conflict


Film noir meets Freud, presented as an inverted mystery. I suppose that just about sums up what viewers can reasonably expect to take away from Conflict (1945). It might also be helpful to keep in mind that this is a movie where plausibility is going to be stretched. In short, if you are the type of person who balks at the unashamed use of contrivance, who yearns for grit and realism, then this almost certainly is not the film for you. On the other hand, those looking for a relatively undemanding confection that plays around the periphery of film noir will probably enjoy themselves.

There is something quintessentially noir about rain. Perhaps it’s down to the heavy, brooding skies, swollen and sullen with the weight within, or that sense of some indefinable force lashing at us. Or maybe it’s just the way the cinematic version seems to smear and blur the lens, leaving our perception of characters and situations, and indeed the entire ethical universe laid out before us, a little unclear. Such is the case as the credits roll, just before the camera zeroes in on the finishing touches being added to a letter of invitation to Richard and Kathryn Mason (Humphrey Bogart and Rose Hobart). It’s from their friend Mark Hamilton (Sydney Greenstreet) on the occasion of their fifth wedding anniversary. Even if it’s a couple of years early, Richard Mason is already starting to feel that famed extramarital itch, in this case prompted by the presence of his wife’s younger sister Evelyn (Alexis Smith). This unsavory fact has just been hauled out in the open and so it’s with a certain sourness that the couple, and the unsuspecting sibling, head off for a night of food, drink and the kind of brittle civility that only the well-heeled and dissatisfied can carry off with aplomb. Well, having dined under a cloud of charmingly concealed bitterness, the drive back home is interrupted by an accident that segues into one of those sequences that has the protagonist’s thoughts and experiences reflected through the images and words of others, spinning as a vortex before the camera, drawing both him and us ever deeper.

On awakening, as the faces of doctor and nurse swim into view, we learn that Richard was the only one who suffered any significant injury. While recuperating from the broken leg that everybody believes has left him temporarily incapacitated, he hatches a plan to rid himself of his wife and leave himself free to pursue Evelyn. It’s no spoiler to point out that this is where the inverted mystery kicks in. We see Richard Mason go about the plotting of his wife’s demise and then get to see the gradual chipping away at his confidence, the doubts that circle and creep ever nearer till, finally, he can no longer be entirely sure how firm his grip on reality or sanity is. It is somehow fitting that he is drawn down into the darkness and despair of a literal and figurative abyss to confront his guilt and culpability before heading back towards the light, back to the fate he richly deserves.

Conflict is derived from a story entitled The Pentacle, co-written by Alfred Neumann and Robert Siodmak. Siodmak’s name is enough to catch my attention, although I suppose it was mainly the casting of Bogart that drew me to the movie when I first saw it some time back in the mid-1980s. As with most inverted mysteries, much of the enjoyment lies in seeing how the best laid plans can unravel, and the clue that first sets the hounds on Mason’s trail grows out of a delicious slice of hubris. Curtis Bernhardt would have a very strong run of melodramas and films noir from My Reputation right through to Payment on Demand, although I reckon Sirocco (also with Bogart) is a misfire. His direction here is impressive at times, with a few showy tracking shots to pulls the audience into the picture, and of course the set piece of the murder on the twisty and mist shrouded mountain pass.

It has been said that Bogart was not keen on the film and was actually reluctant to make it, but he gives a fairly solid performance for all that. He is good at getting across the abrasive and impatient aspects of his character, and the transition from cocksure killer to desperate paranoiac is well realized. The only point at which I felt he hammed it up and lost some credibility was the scene where he tries to emotionally browbeat Alexis Smith, and even there one could perhaps argue that the whole point was to highlight the driven creepiness of Mason. Alexis Smith seems a bit wasted in a role that asks her to do little more than wring her hands on cue and prevaricate, none of which is the fault of the actress herself. Conversely, Rose Hobart is given a juicier part with at least some wounded pride and suspicion to sustain her, but her screen time is necessarily limited. Sydney Greenstreet is never less than a joy to watch in anything and his sympathetic part as the avuncular doctor with a piercing, probing intelligence and a penchant for cultivating roses feels like a dry run for his later role on radio as Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe – just remove the avuncular aspect and swap out the roses for orchids. Charles Drake would go on to do better things in the 1950s at Universal-International but his young suitor in Conflict never rises much above the level  of “aw shucks” guilelessness.

Conflict ought to be easy enough to track down for viewing, either from the Warner Archive or from various European labels. It isn’t the best example of Bogart’s work but he’s good enough in it and he is always watchable anyway. Sure the plot is contrived and the whole thing is loaded with the cod psychology which was popular at the time. However, for those happy to embrace these features and just go with the flow there is quite a lot of pleasure and entertainment to be had.

44 thoughts on “Conflict

  1. Colin
    Superb write-up my good man. Like yourself, I first caught this in the 80s. I must admit I found it to be a bit soft story wise at the time. I took it in again about 6-7 years ago and was surprised how much my opinion had changed. Again, I found the extra years added a better grasp of the whole production making it easier to digest. Cast and crew are solid even when their screen time is somewhat limited. While not a hard hitter, it does pass the time well enough.

    Gord

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you bear in mind that it’s more mystery (of the inverted variety, a little like Columbo I suppose) than film noir, then it probably works better. It has some noir trappings and tendencies of course, but that’s about it. Sure it has its faults but it’s one of those movies I can’t help liking in spite of them.

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  2. Haven’t seen it in an age but remember the denouement! Can understand why Bogie wasn’t enamoured. As you say, not much of for Alexis. Greenstreet never disappoints.

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    • I think it had been delayed and by the time it was released Bogart had become more familiar as a heroic figure, and this had him playing anything but that. Excepting that one hammy scene though, he is quite good in it even if he didn’t like the movie itself

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      • I enjoyed this movie. I’m not a Bogart fan but I really liked his performance here. At times in Bogart movies I have the feeling that he’s on autopilot, that he’s giving us a standard Bogart performance. But in Conflict I get the feeling that he’s really acting, and that he’s really nailed the part.

        It’s probably not the kind of performance his fans would have been looking for. Maybe he didn’t like the movie for that reason.

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  3. Bogart’s dislike makes all the sense in the world, no one at his level, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Clark Gable, John Wayne would have accepted anything similar. And, they did not.

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    • Although, I would have said Bogart was an actor who was a good fit for ambiguous and even outright villainous roles as much as he was suited to the heroic stuff. I mean, he’d had a fair bit of experience in “black hat” parts before getting cast as a good guy. Cagney was another who was credible working, shall we say, both sides of the street.

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      • Cagney was not mentioned by me above because he was not in the same category of romantic star. Neurotic nitwits were on the table.

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        • Well, I wouldn’t have said Bogart fit in comfortably with the group mentioned either. He could and did play neurotic types, though not necessarily nitwits, successfully on a number of occasions.

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  4. Certainly not classic Bogart but it’s a film I enjoy on a certain level just fine. Warner Bros. films from that era always have a certain ‘something’ anyway – the WB intro and music, then the lens work of Merritt Gerstad on this film, the music not by Max Steiner but Frederick Hollander this time and the great WB atmosphere on many of the films from that time, a gunshot that breaks the silence so sharply……
    These are films I enjoy multiple times over the years.

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    • The cinematography and overall “look” of this movie, and a lot of Warner Brothers stuff at this time if I’m honest, certainly appeals. I quite agree that this is one of those imperfect films that I can easily spend time with.

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  5. Can see you have significant reservations about this movie, Colin but you point out enough attractive features for it to intrigue me. Bogart and Greenstreet together, how bad could it be!

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    • I’m definitely more positive on the film than negative, there’s plenty to enjoy and it’s an entertaining example of mid-level studio era filmmaking. I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from seeing it, just to be aware that they aren’t going to get another The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon. It is not up to the quality of the movies Bogart made with Hawks, Huston or Walsh, but it’s streets ahead of, say, Sirocco or Tokyo Joe.

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  6. Weekend films are…
    KNIVES OUT – 2019 Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon
    SAVIOR -1998 Dennis Quaid, Nastassja Kinski, Stellan Skarsgard

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  7. That is what I heard from quite a few people. Thanks for joining the positive chorus of thumbs up!!!!!!!! If it is half as good as I have been told it should hit the spot.

    Gord.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Mitchell Ryan – 1934-2022 R.I.P.
    Character player Mitchell Ryan has passed at age 88. On screen (THUNDER ROAD) and television from 1958. He was in several hundred television episodes and had memorable bits in films such as, MONTE WALSH, CHANDLER, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, THE DEVIL’S OWN, GROSSE POINTE BLANK, LETHAL WEAPON and MAGNUM FORCE.

    Rest well

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Colin, good write-up of CONFLICT(filmed 1943, released 1945) a Warner Bros. movie that I probably like more than you do. I’m one of those Warner Bros. movie fans that don’t mind if the plot is contrived and the whole thing is loaded with the cod psychology, so I’m happy to embrace these features and just go with it. Jerry Entract summed up my feelings concerning Warner Bros. movies of the 1930’s and ’40’s. They had that “Something” that was different from the other major studios of that time period. These movies were fast-moving, gritty, cutting-edge, and more realistic. Warner Bros. movies were more down my line than MGM. Although, I like MGM just fine.

    CONFLICT was shown on tv a lot in my neck of the woods during the 1960’s and ’70’s. The programmers at WREC Channel 3 Memphis must have liked it. I first recall viewing it on the EARLY MOVIE in 1967. Needless to say, I have viewed it several times and enjoyed it. I last viewed it on Turner Classic Movies in 2016. I think Humphrey Bogart and the rest of the cast made this movie more than just a routine melodrama. I really enjoyed Bogart and Sydney Greenstreet’s battle of psychological wits. Greenstreet’s character was determined to break Bogart’s perfect alibi.

    I don’t want to give away too much here, but in my opinion there are some really good scenes. Mason(Bogart) is really menacing on the mountain road to name one. Regarding Bogart not liking this role, it may have been that it was hitting him close to home. This movie was made before the Lauren Bacall years. This was during the time of the “Battling Bogarts,” in which Bogart and his current wife had a very volatile marriage.

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    • Walter, I don’t dislike the movie and I do agree it’s of a type, it has a certain aesthetic if you like, that is recognizably Warner Brothers, and that is indeed attractive in itself. Having Greenstreet around raises anything in my opinion and he’s always good alongside Bogart. I think Bernhardt did good work on the movie and does create some highly effective moments.

      As for your theory regarding Bogart’s alleged feelings about it all, there may be something in that. His marriage to Mayo Methot would have been in its final stages around this time.

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    • Right on Walter!!! For a week, I’ve been wrestling with how to comment on this film CONFLICT. As it struck a nerve in me, it too, had to strike nerves with some audiences. In-particular, those individuals who have gone through or who were going through similar relationship issues. For me the film was more of a psychological drama, with some mystery and elements of film noir of the Warner era.
      The film grabbed me from the get go and set the pace for the entire movie. The realistic dialogue and reactions between the Masons (Bogart and Hobart) was gripping and stark . Rose Hobart and Bogart played off each other so well I would have never believed they were acting. I agree with you Walter regarding Bogart’s not liking the screenplay and the character he is asked to play. Leaving one speculate as to why.
      For those who think Bogart was out-of-place making this movie I don’t think so. Filmed in 1943, Bogart hadn’t done most of his heroic stuff yet. He was still ranked number 4 on Warner’s roster behind Cagney, Robinson and Raft. Riding his success with Casablanca (1942) and To Have and Have Not (1944) he moved up the rankings and solidified his position at number 1 overtaking Cagney.
      In conclusion, CONFLICT rates pretty high with me, chiefly because of how the events originate and subsequently where this film uncomfortably takes me. .

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      • Personally, I feel the mystery elements are quite strong, and I like the way the vital clue that leads to Bogart’s undoing is slipped in – I know I didn’t catch it the first time I saw the movie.
        And to be honest, I don’t believe Bogart was that bothered by, shall we say, screen image. Even after he’d moved to the top of the movie star rankings he didn’t seem to shy away from taking on less sympathetic roles or portraying unsavoury characters.

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      • Scott, I understand where you are coming from by your personal viewing of CONFLICT. Each viewer sees different things through their individual eye of the mind. Also, I think an individual’s past experiences will cause them to latch onto different aspects of the visual experience, whether it is through the story, the acting performances, or both.

        I agree with you about the fine performances of Rose Hobart and Humphrey Bogart as Kathryn and Richard Mason. Rose Hobart made a lot out of a small part, which went a long way.

        I think CONFLICT is well worth viewing.

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  10. Quotes from Rudy Behlmer’s 1985 book, “Inside Warner Brothers.”
    An amazing transcript of a conversation between Bogie and Jack Warner about CONFLICT:
    “I’m sorry, Jack, I can’t do it – my stomach won’t let me…..why don’t you burn the script and forget about it….I am willing to die for Warner Brothers, I will do anything but I cannot do this film.”
    I guess he didn’t want to go on suspension which Warner threatened.

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    • According to Wikipedia this can also be added to what went on behind the scenes………

      “CONFLICT” Production
      According to author Aljean Harmetz in The Making of Casablanca: Bogart, Bergman, and World War II, Bogart disliked the Conflict screenplay and initially refused the role in the spring of 1943. When Jack Warner called Bogart to convince him to take the part, a stenographer transcribed the call. Bogart told Warner: “I’m sorry, Jack. I just can’t do it. My stomach will not let me. I am an honest man and I have to be honest with myself in this manner. If you want to get tough with me … I will feel that I have lost a friend.” Bogart only accepted the role after Warner threatened to block production of Passage to Marseille or to cast a different actor in its lead role if Bogart would not appear in Conflict.

      “PASSAGE TO MARSEILLE” Production
      Before Bogart began work on the film, pre-production had been underway for six months, but as a result of resisting Jack Warner’s decision to cast him in Conflict (released 1945, but shot in 1943), his starring role as Matrac was in jeopardy, with Jean Gabin being touted as a replacement. Even when the issue was decided, Bogart’s portrayal was hampered by marital difficulties and a lack of commitment to the project.
      ———————————————-
      Further evidence that suggest that marital problems were playing a role on and off the camera. Comments.

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      • It’s interesting too to see how keen Bogart seems to have been on Passage to Marseille. I’m fond enough of the movie and have been since I first caught a Sunday afternoon screening on TV in the early to mid 1980s. I don’t think it’s any world beater though and of interest mainly for some well realized scenes and the telescoping flashback structure more than anything.

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  11. I’ve not seen CONFLICT and your review has convinced me that it’s one to track down especially with Alexis Smith on board. Smith fared better than many actresses from The Golden Age and continued working up until her passing in the early 90’s. Even up until 1975 she still gained second billing alongside Kirk Douglas in ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH. Losey’s THE SLEEPING TIGER was a nice diversion for the actress and her and the often prickly Bogarde got on very well indeed. After her departure from Warners her several Universal titles did little for her apart from an engaging Noir UNDERCOVER GIRL,which I hope gets a Blu Ray release at some point.

    I guess, Colin, you have noted that Powerhouse/Indicator have announced a Bogart Columbia box set. I have most of the titles I want but will certainly get DEAD RECKONING when it gets a stand alone release. I know, Colin, you are not too keen on TOKYO JOE, a film I like very much. The Powerhouse release has a commentary by Nora Fiore (The Nitrate Diva) which should indicate that she also admires the picture. As always with Powerhouse there are some tasty extras which sadly I will have to live without-it’s also interesting Bogart’s final picture THE HARDER THEY FALL is from a brand new 4K restoration-a high note to a brilliant career.

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    • John, I wrote a short piece on The Sleeping Tiger years ago. I like the movie well enough, although I didn’t entirely buy into Bogarde’s part. Still, it’s not at all a bad piece of work.

      Yes, I’ve seen the announcement of the Bogart set and, like yourself, I’d really only be in for Dead Reckoning as a standalone at some point. I find The Harder They Fall a difficult film to watch in some respects, not because it’s a poor one but just knowing that its star had so little time left. Excepting those two titles, there’s a lot of what I’d term “filler” in that set though and I have perfectly serviceable DVDs of all of them.

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  12. I liked receiving the additional information from Vienna and Scott concerning why Bogart didn’t want to portray Richard Mason in CONFLICT, because it looks like it may have struck a nerve. Also, talk about striking a nerve. The same day that I wrote my last comment(above) a former colleague of mine was arrested and charged with the murder of his wife. Good gosh almighty! How awful this is and I can’t seem to get it off of my mind.

    John K, always brings up some movies that I’ve never viewed, or its been years since I’ve seen them. UNDERCOVER GIRL(1950) and THE SLEEPING TIGER(filmed 1953-54, released 1954) are two that I haven’t thought about in years. I first viewed UNDERCOVER GIRL on the WHBQ Channel 13 Memphis DIALING FOR DOLLARS MOVIE in 1972 and THE SLEEPING TIGER on the NICK-AT-NITE MOVIE in 1985. I should and will try to find them again. I’m an Alexis Smith and Dirk Bogarde fan from way back.

    Colin, I went back and read your write-up on THE SLEEPING TIGER and saw your point regarding the plausibility of Bogarde’s character and of course, “a fly in the ointment – the woman. Glenda(Alexis Smith). As for the why would Clive Esmond(Alexander Knox), a psychiatrist, “endanger himself and his household for the sake of curing one patient.” That is a good practical question.

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  13. Pingback: Crime Film Hub Daily: March 13th 2022 - Crime Film Hub

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