Conflict (1945)

Conflict (1945) is a wife-murder mystery paranoia and psychiatry film noir from the classic noir period, starring Humphrey Bogart, Alexis Smith and Sydney Greenstreet.

Conflict broadcasts its wicked and paranoiac storyline directly from one of the key centres of film noir existence — the middle class suburban marriage. 

These marriages are often writ unhappily across noir, and featured weakened males, bothered by lust for another woman, as in this example, or other forms of unhappy greed.

Conflict opens with such a marriage on display —  a couple who appear to be happily married but in fact are not. And on their fifth wedding anniversary, wife Kathryn (played by Rose Hobart) accuses husband Richard (played by Humphrey Bogart) of having fallen in love with her younger sister, Evelyn.

World weary and as super cynical as ever, Bogart as Richard does not deny it, even though he has resigned himself to leaving things as they are, since Kathryn certainly would not give him a divorce.

Kathryn however derides him further, and continues to wind him up, a process which leads to the handsome Richard crashing the family car and breaking a leg. 

Humphrey Bogart and Rose Hobart in marital Conflict (1945)

The meat of this film noir is contained in the aftermath of a brilliantly creepy scene in which Humphrey Bogart as Richard murders his wife, and his paranoia around whether he has succeeded or not, and whether he will be discovered.

Charles Drake and Alexis Smith in Conflict (1945)

Unfortunately despite this brilliantly tortured performance, the outcome seems rather obvious, and remains so from the moment we meet the character of the psychiatrist Dr Mark Hamilton, played by Sydney Greenstreet.

Humphrey Bogart and Rose Hobart in marital Conflict (1945)

Alexis Smith in Conflict (1945)

This was the fourth film that Greenstreet and Bogart had made together, since Greenstreet's film debut at the age of 62 in The Maltese Falcon (1941). Greenstreet plays the psychoanalyst in Conflict and seems to be on to the crime before it is committed — always appearing with a knowing gaze, and peculiar wisdom.

Desire in the rear-view — Conflict (1945)

Early in the movie there is a typically bunk chat about psychoanalytic treatment, at a party held for the unhappy couple's fifth wedding anniversary. Shortly after that there is a fatal moment that changes everything, when Bogart's infatuation for his sister-in-law overtakes his rational mind and he finds himself staring so hard at her in the rear-view that he causes a terrible film noir auto-smash — a crash that does not kill him, nor his wife, but which changes the course of the action and wrecks his leg — the automobile and the wrecked leg now featuring large in the impending murder.

Car smash and aftermath in Curtis Bernhardt's Conflict (1945)

And you can tell here from other character's opinions, that Bogart is going to be the bad guy — because he does not believe in the merits of the pseudoscience — making himself look as if he's behind the times and just simply unfashionably ugly in his views.

Dr. Mark Hamilton: You see sometimes a thought can be like a malignant disease that starts to eat away the willpower. When that happens, it's my business to remove the thought before it can cause destruction.

Richard Mason: That's a very pretty theory, Doctor, but I don't quite see how you can take a thought out of a man's head. It seems to me if it's there, it's there and there's nothing can be done about it.

It would be a little like turning up at a bourgeois party in the early 2020s and announcing that you did not believe in man made climate change — the same censure all round and the implication that the views are primitive to the point of ugly. 

Motor Car Noir in Conflict (1945)

Humphrey Bogart had worked his way up to star status after playing second banana to some of the other Warner Bros. stars of the era, usually Edward G. Robinson and Jimmy Cagney. Even after achieving full public adoration after becoming a new type of cynical anti-hero in hits like The Maltese Falcon (1941), High Sierra (1941) and Casablanca (1942) Jack Warner still couldn't quite believe that Bogart was the hit that he was.

Although it came out in 1945, Conflict was Warner Bros. follow up to Casablanca and was made in 1943. Bogart's character is an unhappily married engineer who is in love with his wife's younger sister, and it was a role Humphrey Bogart did not want — perhaps because he and his wife at the time, actress Mayo Methot, were in a similarly bitter and argumentative union — and were known across Hollywood for alcohol fuelled fighting which gave them a terrible reputation.

There was a crucial two year delay in the release of Conflict, which was completed in 1943 and released in 1945, and this was down to a lawsuit issued from a pair of writers who alleged that the story for the film had been plagiarised from their short story. The suit took two years to settle, and it is possible that if Conflict had been issued in 1943, it might have more film noir fame than it otherwise does — as it would have been somewhat ahead of its time — presenting many noir themes and tones that actually swept the noir nation in 1944 with the release of movies like Laura, Double Indemnity, Gaslight and Phantom Lady

Humphrey Bogart and Sydney Greenstreet in Conflict (1945)

Curtis Bernhardt was one of many central film noir directors who had started life in Germany and emigrated because of the Nazis — a cohort that included Robert Siodmak who collaborated on the story for this film.

In Germany, Curtis Bernhardt had been considered one of the more superior director and was held in higher regard that Siodmak, who had yet to establish himself before the move to Hollywood. In America the tables turned somewhat and Siodmak became an A-list director, almost rivalling Hitchcock for his suspense movies — while Bernhard never receieved the attention or even the scripts that his fellow country men did — fellow countrymen like Robert Siodmak, Otto Preminger, Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Fred Zinneman and Michael Curtiz — who was Hungarian and was invited to Hollywood by Warner Bros. in 1926.

The Maltese Falcon makes a cameo appearance in Curtis Bernhardt's film noir Conflict (1945)

The Germanic overtones brought to bear on Conflict (1945) by Curtis Bernhardt and Siodmak give a heavy and weighed down feeling to the drama, and the romantic fatalism which finds Humphrey Bogart's character on a slowly nosediving and tortured descent, are just two of the factors which take this otherwise quite straightforward story and make of it a classic noir.

This was Curtis Bernhardt's first film noir production, and it holds together beautifully — his character's paranoia in the face of the increasingly strange evidence of his senses is so mysterious and completely entrapping as odder and odder encounters occur — including phone calls from a dead woman, an elaborate pawn shop scene in which the dead woman has deposited some of the couple's jewellery — and a figure of the dead woman in a crowd who walks into an empty apartment and disappears.

Humphrey Bogart in Conflict (1945)

And there are real film noir effects — most notably of all when Humphrey Bogart emerges limping from a fog bank, ready for murder.

Worth noting too is that in one scene there is a guest appearance from none other than The Maltese Falcon itself, balanced on top of a set of filing cabinets in a lawyer's office.

It's hard to imagine the levels of complicity presented here between the police and the psychiatric professor, and even though it should be fairly obvious what is coming, belief may be suspended for the sake of the torture that Humphrey Bogart goes through and high drama created. 

Each manufactured event is intended to make engineer Richard Mason believe that his wife may not be dead and that he may  be losing his paranoid mind. Even random events then conspire to trigger the killer's guilt such as an engineering sketch by one of his partners, and a pile of logs set up for a lodge bonfire roughly resembles the scene where Mason rigged his wife's unfortunate accident.

Charles Drake in Conflict (1945)

It's also hard to make out whether psychiatry / psychoanalysis is supposed to be the hero or not here, although everything points to the fact that it should. This was the only time when Sydney Greenstreet and Bogart were in a film together with Bogart as the villain, while Greenstreet is the man who solves the murder. 

It is certainly reverse casting and Greenstreet is the psychiatric professor who uses psychological operations to crack the killer's conscience and have him lead the police to the scene of the crime.

Sydney Greenstreet in Conflict (1945)

As psychiatry takes its usual cod and back seat role here, what can be induced is that the powers of psychoanalysis are here in a sense able to used for ill — to be used to torture a person rather than heal them. Otherwise, why would Greenstreet not play a private detective or police agent solving this crime?

Instead this is how psychologists solve murders — they go to it by taking apart the mind of the suspect and reducing it to base paranoiac and fearful components. These are the realms of expressionistic angst, a fantasy realm of reverse analytics in which psychiatry is used to solve crimes — not by getting into the mind and seeking motivation — but by destroying the mind and finding the basics of guilt in the pieces left behind. 

Classic film noir mode — Humphrey Bogart in Conflict (1945)

It is sure fire on the money film noir. Conflict is certainly a disturbing and often horrifying psychological noir, with a maliciously unnerving mood and heavy, dismal cinematography, the film achieves brand new levels of anxiety, never before seen in the cinema. It's twisted and deranged and 

Cop denouement by flashlight in Conflict (1945)

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