Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Conspirators (1944)

THE CONSPIRATORS is an American espionage thriller that was directed by Jean Negulesco and released by Warner Brothers in October 1944.  It stars Paul Henreid, Hedy Lamarr, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.  Set in WW2 Portugal, it follows the attempt by Dutch resistance leader Vincent Van Der Lyn (Henreid) to escape the clutches of his Nazi pursuers.


This was the final film in my Greenstreet / Lorre marathon and was another attempt by Warners to repeat the success of their own CASABLANCA.  As I pointed out in my review of PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES, Warners had several goes at rejigging the CASABLANCA formula using their contracted stars and directors.  In PASSAGE... they had Michael Curtiz, Bogart, Rains, Greenstreet and Lorre but no Bergman or Henreid; in THE CONSPIRATORS they just had Henreid, Greenstreet and Lorre.  As fine as those three individuals were, they arguably represent the three least interesting, or inessential, elements of CASABLANCA.  No doubt Warners realised that too, adding the top-billed Hedy Lamarr.

Henreid and Lamarr
I haven't checked so I'm happy to be corrected on this point but I'd hazard a guess that THE CONSPIRATORS probably marked the end of Warners attempts to cash in on CASABLANCA.  I reckon they'd wrung as much out of it as they could, which would explain why this film has an air of 'after the Lord Mayor's Show' about it.  It's not so much that you can point the finger at any particular weaknesses, more that it had literally all been done before; and because I watched most of those movies back-to-back the recycling of plot and settings became all too apparent.

This may be the same map Warner Bros used in BACKGROUND TO DANGER
It's a shame actually because judged solely on its own merits it's a perfectly decent WW2 thriller.  Okay, so the vast theatre of WW2 is reduced to the scope of a handful of individuals but the duplicity, brutality and self-interest of war are not skimped on.  The second half becomes a cross between a whodunnit and a nick-of-time climax as Henreid and his underground group try to figure out who the mole is before the Portugese authorities come crashing down on them.  It all ends up hinging on a game of roulette and is deftly handled by Negulesco, who earlier in 1944 had directed Greenstreet and Lorre in the excellent THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS.

Greensreet and Lorre together again
Film anorak notes:

  • Arthur Edeson was back on board for this one so the cinematography lacks the class of James Wong Howe's work on PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES.  Another credit too for Perc Westmore, Warner's make up maestro.
  • Victor Francen, who plays the aristocratic Hugh Von Mohr, and Eduardo Cianelli as the Chief of Police, were both in the aforementioned DIMITRIOS and also PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES, as was Vladimir Sokoloff.



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