Friday, February 22, 2008

Noir City Northwest: Conflict (1945)/The Suspect (1944)

The love triangle gone wrong. It’s a noir stalwart. So it makes sense to close out this year’s Seattle edition of Noir City with a pair of murderous husbands that doubles as a salute to filmmaker Robert Siodmak.

Siodmak has a story credit on Conflict, and a nicely twisted story it is. Humphrey Bogart kills his wife because he’s fallen in love with her younger sister. It’s a perfect crime that has both the cops and psychology expert Sidney Greenstreet fooled. Until Bogie begins receiving hints that maybe the missus isn’t dead ...

Conflict is smartly manipulative fun, with a strong Bogart performance; he goes crazy very well. I’d say it’s surprising that the film isn’t better known, but our host and programmer Eddie Muller explained why. Legal issues held up the movie’s release for two years. That meant it came out after the seminal noirs of 1944, like Double Indemnity and Laura. Conflict was dismissed as a copycat even though technically it blazed its dark trail first, and ever since it’s been treated as a footnote in Bogart’s career. Undeservedly so.

The Suspect is another test of the flexibility of noir’s definition. It’s the classic story – guy falls for another woman, bumps off his wife, and tries to outwit the cops – but set in 1902 London. Siodmak directs what Eddie called “the best Hitchcock movie not made by Hitchcock,” inspired by the infamous Dr. Crippen case. Ella Raines, star of Siodmak’s Phantom Lady and a local girl, plays the other woman. But it’s Charles Laughton’s performance that makes the movie memorable. His character is a profoundly decent man, a killer who is not a killer at heart, and by the film’s end we’re rooting for him to get away with murder. If that’s not noir, I don’t know what is.

And so we bring down the curtain. Fourteen films plus one short in seven remarkable days. My thanks to SIFF Cinema and especially to Eddie Muller. Film noir could not have a better champion.

It’s 2:17 AM as I write this, but I made a pact with myself that I’d post about these movies every night, as if I were on deadline. I’ve realized that in a sense I am. To me, these films – about need and desire, desperation and hope – are still news. And they always will be.