By 1943 when production began on this picture (its release was held up for two years), Bogart had advanced from reliable second-stringer at the studio to major star, largely on the strength of his work in High Sierra (1941), The Maltese Falcon (1941), and Casablanca (1942). It was unusual, to say the least, for Warners to cast its rising star as a sinister and mentally disturbed killer riddled with weaknesses, rather than as an in-control tough guy - the type of character audiences were coming to expect of him. But producers must have felt there was something of value in such a career move because they pressed Bogart into the role against his wishes, threatening to keep him out of his longed-for next picture, Passage to Marseille (1944), until he completed this one. After an initial attempt to intimidate and alienate director Curtis Bernhardt, Bogart settled amiably into the part and gave one of his most interesting performances.
The star is helped greatly by the taut screenplay and the effective work of Bernhardt in such scenes as the wife's murder and the opening "eavesdropping" camera track into the house. Many film writers have observed in Conflict one of Hollywood's earliest examples of film noir with its romantic fatalism and the stylistic echoes of German Expressionist cinema. Both Bernhardt and Robert Siodmak (who originated the story and directed many of the top noir films of the 40s) were German born and started their careers in that country.
Conflict is also one of the first movie plots to depend heavily on the ideas and techniques of psychoanalysis. Bernhardt later claimed to have no particular interest in psychiatry, although at least three of his films deal extensively with the subject. But this movie doesn't seem to be a significant one in his estimation of his career. In fact, he said he had so little memory of it that when he saw it on TV in Italy years later, dubbed in Italian so he couldn't understand the dialogue, he had no idea what was happening. Someone in the building where Bernhardt was staying came up to his room asking how the film ended and the director couldn't tell him.
A few items of interest to connoisseurs of more arcane movie lore: Frederick Hollander (aka Friedrich Hollander), who composed this picture's score, is most frequently associated with Marlene Dietrich, having composed songs and scores for nine of her movies, including her signature tunes "Falling in Love Again" from The Blue Angel (1930) and "The Boys in the Backroom" from Destry Rides Again (1939). Rose Hobart, who plays the murdered wife here, starred in a rather obscure exotic adventure-romance called East of Borneo (1931). That movie was re-edited into a surrealistic short by artist Joseph Cornell in 1936 and given the actress's name as a title. Hobart's career was cut short by the Hollywood blacklist of the late 40s. Finally, two years after Conflict, Humphrey Bogart was once again a disturbed man plotting to kill his wife (Barbara Stanwyck) for the love of Alexis Smith in The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947).
Director: Curtis Bernhardt
Producer: William Jacobs
Screenplay: Arthur T. Horman, Dwight Taylor; story by Robert Siodmak, Alfred Neumann
Cinematography: Merritt Gerstad
Editing: David Weisbart
Art Direction: Ted Smith
Original Music: Frederick Hollander
Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Richard Mason), Alexis Smith (Evelyn Turner), Sydney Greenstreet (Dr. Mark Hamilton), Rose Hobart (Katherine Mason).
BW-86m. Closed captioning.
by Rob Nixon