A few words about Anita Bolster, who fortunately provides what little humor there is in this bleak enterprise. To Stanwyck she says: “Those cakes you wanted if I had any, there’re none left.” To Humphrey Bogart when he asks if she told the man on the phone he was home. “Why not? You are here—aren’t you?” To Nigel Bruce in response to an inquiry about where her “master,” Mr. Carroll, is: “If you’re asking about my master, he’s up in heaven. If you’re asking about my employer, he’s out in the garden . . . minding his own business, I should think. . . . Nosy old fossil.”
With a career as long as Isobel Elsom’s and, like her, Bolster is one of those supporting players who appear in countless films, a familiar face with a less familiar name to match. I best remember Bolster as the bearded lady in the circus caravan in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur and as Mrs. Slattery (uncredited) in The List of Adrian Messenger. Speaking of the 1940s Universal/Holmes mysteries, she starred with Nigel Bruce in Dressed to Kill, also in The Thin Man Goes Home and The Lost Weekend, among other films.
Besides Humphrey Bogart, in Conflict there are two carryover stars from The Two Mrs. Carrolls—Patrick O’Moore as a police detective and none other than Alexis Smith, now in softer lighting, more femininely attired and in a sympathetic, innocent victim role. In Conflict she is again the obsession of Bogart, who imagines “she feels about him the way he feels about her.” His psychosis motivates him to kill his wife, but Smith plays her reaction somewhat down the middle, so it’s a little uncertain whether or not she has any feelings for him.
Conflict is a better film, I assure you, if only marginally. At least its director, Curtis Bernhardt, does better here than Godfrey does, though finer examples of Bernhardt’s work are Possessed with Joan Crawford and Miss Sadie Thompson with Rita Hayworth. The biggest asset of Conflict, however, is Sydney Greenstreet, who plays a crafty psychologist out to trick and catch Bogart. Sydney Greenstreet pretty much plays himself, with the trademark guttural laugh heard in The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, any number of his pictures—but he’s a delight to watch and has an undeniable presence.
It would be an injustice to omit any reference to the music in Conflict. Frederick Hollander, although a second-stringer, seems to find the appropriate touch, unlike Franz Waxman’s blatant over-scoring in The Two Mrs. Carrolls. I’m thinking of Franz Waxman’s dreadful, bull-in-the-china-shop clamor when Humphrey Bogart tosses aside brushes and obliterates a new canvas, disgusted with his loss of inspiration. By comparison, Hollander’s most dramatic moments seem downright subtle. The numerous moments of mystery and suspense are simply and effectively handled, refreshingly succinct after the Franz Waxman onslaught. (Don’t misunderstand: Waxman is one of the greatest; he rules supreme in Sunset Blvd., The Bride of Frankenstein, Prince Valiant and Rebecca, the diversity alone one of his strong points.)
If there’s ever an impulse to see The Two Mrs. Carrolls and Conflict is unfamiliar and handy, investigate Conflict instead.
Available from Warner Archives exclusively at The Two Mrs. Carrolls.
Review copy provided by Warner Bros. Thanks!