The Conspirators (1944) with Hedy Lamarr

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This may seem to you melodramatic, but indulge me, please, I like melodrama. – Ricardo Quintanilla.

 

Well it was a good run as we’ve had some great movies in the queue of late.  Since Breakthrough, we have picked pretty strong films – among them CharadeCrossroads, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Sad to say today we break the trend as we opted to continue the Hedy Lamarr theme and watch 1944’s The Conspirators.

On the surface, this had a good amount of potential with a strong cast, including Hedy Lamarr, Paul Henreid, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre.  Sadly, they are wasted in an insanely insipid and dull plot which, in true studio style, attempts to either recycle or produce a sequel to the amazingly successful Casablanca.  Surely you’ll note many of the same names in the cast.

Taking place in Lisbon, Paul Henried is the main foil, a Dutch resistance fighter known to the Germans as the “Flying Dutchman” but whose real name is Vincent Van Der Lyn.  After an immensely successful attack on the evil Nazis, Van Der Lyn has fled to Lisbon to try to work his way into the Free Dutch Air Force.

While in Lisbon he meets a small band of local conspirators, led by Ricardo Quintanilla (played by Sydney Greenstreet)  but also including Peter Lorre, Victor Francen, and Hedy Lamarr.  Sydney Greenstreet pulls Henreid aside and asks for his help.  You see, there is a mole in the group passing secrets along to the Germans.

This plot leads through several interminable and simply uninteresting situations for the balance of the picture.  The finale, in a local casino, provides a suitable climax almost in the vein of later James Bond pictures but even this is lackluster and at times painful to watch.  Sadly, little to recommend this one.

The film which after a very troubled production met with equally ‘troubling’ box office results, does have some nice atmosphere and cinematography, seems not to be able to convey either why this little band is important, why we should care about these folks, or why so little is done with such a strong cast.

Paul Henried seems wane and not strong enough to carry the lead role.  The strong supporting cast of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre aren’t onscreen enough, having little to do, and become parodies of sorts of their earlier roles.

Perhaps most distressing is the use – or lack of use- of Hedy Lamarr.  Befitting her status of the time, she gets top billing, but has in truth a supporting role, if that.  She seems peripheral to her fellow conspirators, who in themselves are at best….peripheral.  Her on screen time is listless and without point.

Her lone contribution to the film is her costuming, particularly the headwear, which changes for each scene, getting progressively eccentric as the film progresses.  It is truly a sad commentary on the film that the lead take-away from her performace is her hats.

Thankfully, here is a film which deserves forgetting and perhaps has been.  It isn’t available anywhere that I can see, but it does on occasion come through on TCM.  Should you have 101 minutes you have no other use for track it down.

1 comment… add one

  • Waldo Gemio September 3, 2013, 10:32 am

    Sorry, couldn’t let this review pass without comment. We seem to have watched two different films. Although there are obvious echoes of Casablanca, and even Notorious (like Bergman in that film, Lamarr is married to an influential nobleman Nazi), this gets by very well on its own steam as we follow an anti-Nazi and his helpers on his adventures during which he has to figure out who he can trust, who the mole is among their group, and whether or not the woman he loves is a Nazi, while being accused of a murder he didn’t commit making him a wanted man by the Nazis, the ‘neutral’ police authorities, and his own gang of conspirators. Although there are precious few memorable lines (such as ‘A pawn shop is a cemetery of dead hope’ – a password), there are moments, such as when a prisoner leaves his cell for the first time in 18 years and is so bewildered he voluntarily returns to it, which are almost surreal, and certainly unexpected, and Max Steiner’s music is impressive throughout. And Hedy Lamarr, given that she was never a great actress, is as effective as she needs to be in a role that requires her to pass on secrets, evade capture, bluff her way through dinner, hide her despair at hearing of the imprisonment of the man she loves, not reveal who she is when he accuses her of being a traitor…Well, what more do you want? Of course, it helps if you think Lamarr was possibly the most beautiful woman in forties Hollywood. It’s no Casablanca, but it’s easily the equal of Crossroads, albeit a rather different movie, and not as absurdly plotted, in which all Lamarr has to do is stand by her hubby. Conspirators is not a great movie but well worth a 100 minutes of any film buff’s time.

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