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teaser Conspirator (1949)

After World War II, Hollywood's start up plans for the European market was once again stymied, as they were after World War I, by the poor economic conditions overseas. With literally millions of pre-war invested dollars - appropriately christened "frozen funds" - tied up abroad, frustrated American moguls hit upon the decision to co-produce feature films with their British, French and later Italian and German arms thus thawing out monies, which, they felt by all rights belonged to them anyway. The overseas staffs were delighted that top Yankee talent would be dispatched to shoot movies in their own backyard, thus providing many needed jobs for local key crew members and production personnel. Paramount, Fox and MGM soon set their frozen fund plan in effect, sweetened by the participation of such high profile players as Tyrone Power, Spencer Tracy, Ray Milland, Orson Welles and George Cukor. Not surprisingly, MGM went that extra mile by building a brand new state of the art English studio, with 1949's Edward My Son being the first production to go on tap. The second title, Conspirator, was literally Taylor-made - a topical spine chiller co-starring Metro's two namesakes, Robert and Elizabeth.

Conspirator's most prominent attribute is that it gave 17-year-old Elizabeth Taylor her first grown-up role, playing wife to more than twice her age co-star Robert Taylor, a continued sore point of embarrassment for the latter. Vanity aside, the veteran leading man later admitted that young Liz's beauty and sexuality would drive him crazy on the set, causing the actor to become so aroused that re-takes would be necessary, lest some sharp-eyed censors took note of unsightly bulges in the trouser area.

The plotline of Conspirator today, while historically fascinating, is nevertheless equally embarrassing - one of a series of Red Scare warning movies that pushed the nightmare button throughout the Dream Factory. Similar "better dead than Red" narratives from the same time period include RKO's I Married a Communist (1950), Republic's The Red Menace (1949) and Fox's The Iron Curtain (1948). In Conspirator, Liz plays an innocent, loving wife who discovers that her hubby, while stationed in the USSR, was won over to the dirty Commie doctrine of life. While she is one of the chief virtues of Conspirator, Liz took a very unpretentious approach to acting, stating in one interview: "I never had an acting lesson, and I do't know how to act per se. I just developed as an actress. Acting is instinctive with me. It's mostly concentration....Usually it isn't hard to get a character. Mostly, I just read my lines through three times at night and then I go to sleep like a log and don't think about anything. I don't sit down and figure should I do this gesture or should I do that. I know it sounds funny for me to say, but it just seems easy, that's all."

For Robert Taylor, who would shamelessly become a friendly witness during the Blacklist period, the role was felt to be an important and even educational one - and another in an ongoing series of sinister villain parts that his career path seemed to be taking, having already played the evil husband in Undercurent (1946). He would, in fact, over the next decade portray characters of questionable virtue in The Bribe (1949), Rogue Cop (1954) and Party Girl (1958). His career would take another more positive and profitable turn again in 1951 with Quo Vadis?. Spy movie fans, who should get the most enjoyment out of Conspirator, will be especially pleased to note that the fine supporting cast includes Honor Blackman, who would, some fifteen years later, make an indelible contribution to the genre as James Bond's nemesis/ally, Pussy Galore in the 007 classic, Goldfinger (1964).

Director: Victor Saville
Producer: Arthur Hornblow Jr.
Screenplay: Sally Benson, Gerard Fairlie, based on the novel by Humphrey Slater
Cinematography: Skeets Kelly, Freddie Young
Editor: Frank Clark
Art Direction: Alfred Junge
Music: John Wooldridge
Cast: Robert Taylor (Maj. Michael Currah), Elizabeth Taylor (Melinda Greyton), Robert Flemyng (Capt.Hugh Ladholme), Harold Warrender (Col. Hammerbrook), Honor Blackman (Joyce)

by Mel Neuhaus

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