Cast & Crew
In London, in 1949, Melinda Greyton, a beautiful, eighteen-year-old American, attends a ball with her friend and sponsor, Joyce Penistone. The otherwise dull evening brightens when handsome, serious Maj. Michael Curragh of the British Army asks Melinda to dance. Despite their age difference, Melinda and Michael are strongly attracted to each other and begin a whirlwind romance. One day, however, Michael receives a mysterious, unsigned postcard at his home and, donning a hat, mackintosh and eyeglasses, takes the Underground to an old house. There, Michael meets a Russian named Alek and gives him a coded account of a General Staff meeting he attended. After complaining to Alek about the amount of time that the "Party" demands of him, Michael breaks that evening's date with Melinda and travels to Wales, where his beloved aunt Jessica lives. Sensing that her nephew, whose Irish mother exposed him to the activities of the Irish Republican Army during his childhood, is lonely and confused, Jessica advises him to find someone to love. Michael then telephones Melinda and invites her to join him. Although Michael's sudden departure had greatly upset Melinda, she accepts without hesitation and quickly ingratiates herself with Jessica. During a playful rabbit hunt with Jessica's grandchildren, however, Melinda becomes upset when Michael displays no empathy for a rabbit whose legs have been crushed by a trap. Michael apologizes for his insensitivity and, after professing his love, proposes. Following a lavish London wedding, Melinda moves into Michael's flat and is welcomed by Michael's housekeeper, Broaders. Soon after, Michael is summoned to another clandestine meeting and tells Alek and his secretary about his marriage, reassuring them that it will not interfere with his work. When Alek informs Michael that he has violated Party rules by marrying, Michael asks to talk with Radek, the "general director," but is informed that Radek never sees anyone. Sometime later, Michael tells Melinda that he has to visit his old army servant, Taploe, and cannot accompany her to a bridge game with Joyce and Capt. Hugh Ladholme, Melinda's former suitor. During the game, Hugh refers to Michael's servant by a different name, and Melinda is filled with suspicion. When questioned later, Michael calmly informs Melinda that he had another servant besides Taploe and reassures her that he is not having an affair. Melinda's uneasiness returns, however, when she finds his fake eyeglasses and mackintosh. After learning that Melinda has sent the coat to the cleaners, Michael yells at her to retrieve it and grabs her when she refuses. Michael then demands that she act like a proper wife and, stunned, Melinda apologizes. After a period of calm, Melinda inadvertently discovers an uncoded message that Michael was intending to give to Radek, which reveals that Michael has been spying for the Communists. Although Michael tries to justify his activities by telling the horrified Melinda about his uncaring English father and his exciting life among the Irish rebels, she can only see him as a traitor. When Melinda threatens to leave unless he gives up spying, Michael agrees to stop. Shortly before Michael, Hugh, fellow officer Henry Raglan, and their superior, Col. Hammerbrook, are to leave with Melinda on a hunting trip to Norfolk, however, Melinda intercepts another unsigned postcard. Distressed by Michael's duplicity, Melinda insists that he resign his commission or face exposure by her. Michael agrees and tells Alek that he is resigning from the Party, but Alek coldly reminds him of the loyalty oath he took. Alek then announces that Radek has ordered him to kill Melinda. Soon after, while hunting with Melinda in Norfolk, Michael contemplates shooting her, but before he can, his rifle accidentally fires, just missing her. Back in London, Melinda, unsure whether Michael intended to shoot at her, confides her situation to Joyce, who advises her to leave Michael immediately. Meanwhile, Alek and his secretary, who reveals himself to be Radek, demand that Michael complete his assignment, or face dire consequences. Upon arriving home, Michael discovers that Melinda has been packing and tries to stop her, struggling with her on the stairs. Broaders enters and interrupts the fight, and Melinda flees. Desperate, Michael goes to the old house, but finds it abandoned. When he phones Radek at the Russian embassy, he is told that "Michael Curragh" is dead and, understanding the meaning behind the pronouncement, stumbles home. Just then, Melinda arrives with Hugh and Hammerbrook, but before they can confront Michael, he shoots himself. Hugh then informs the grieving Melinda that Hammerbrook had known about Michael's spying for some time but, for security reasons, allowed him to continue. Aware of how the public would react if Hammerbrook's decision were known, Hugh asks Melinda to say that Michael killed himself because she had left him and, through her tears, she agrees.
Arthur Hornblow Jr.
The Philharmonia Orchestra
A. W. Watkins
F. A. Young
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
Conspirator was the second picture filmed by M-G-M at its Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, England. For more information on the studio's productions at Elstree, please see the entry below for Edward, My Son. An October 1948 Daily Variety news item noted that half the film would be made in the English countryside. Some filming took place at Manod, in Wales, and three nights of filming took place at the Holborn Underground station in London. A January 1949 New York Times article noted that in addition to closing the Underground station for three successive nights, the London Passenger Transport Board provided M-G-M with a working train and four double-deck buses. The services provided by the London Passenger Transport Board were said to have been part of a new British policy intended to attract more American filmmakers to England.
A February 6, 1950 news item in Daily Variety noted that the film's story bore some resemblance to the real life story of Dr. Claus Fuchs, a British atomic scientist who was arrested and charged with espionage. The same news item indicated that M-G-M would take full advantage of the timeliness of the case in its promotion of the film. Regional censorship reports contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicate that the film was banned in Finland on the grounds that it might "jeopardize the relations of foreign countries." An October 1950 news item in Hollywood Citizen-News notes that the film was banned from a theater in New Delhi, India. The news item speculated that the ban May have been ordered by the city of New Delhi following intervention by the Russian embassy. The film received mostly negative reviews when it was released in 1950, and despite its timeliness, many critics disliked the story. The New York Times reviewer called the film "singularly devoid of conviction," while Time magazine called it "a study in stupidity." Elizabeth Taylor was sixteen years old when the film went into production, and Robert Taylor, who played her onscreen husband, was thirty-seven. At the time of its release, the picture was heavily publicized as Elizabeth Taylor's first adult role. A biography of Taylor states that Renee Helmer served as her stand-in.