The Conspirators (1944)

Vincent Van Der Lyn (Paul Henreid) is on the run to Lisbon from the Netherlands, seeking safety and freedom in a neutral place after working against the Nazis. Upon arrival in Lisbon, Vincent is warned by the police captain (Joseph Calleia) that he must remain neutral while in Portugal. Vincent is given a 36-hour visa and says he plans to leave Lisbon for England the next night.

(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

The same night, Irene Duchatel (Hedy Lamarr) witnesses a man’s murder just after passing him a secret message. She runs into a cafe to hide from the authorities, and sits at Vincent’s table, making small talk with him while keeping a careful eye out for police.

When the police arrive, Irene slips out the back entrance, telling Vincent that she needs to make a phone call but actually ditching him. When Vincent realizes that she has left the cafe, he cancels his dinner order and sets out to find her, intrigued by her mysterious nature.

Complications ensue as Irene and Vincent both engage in underground spy activities, and find themselves falling for each other.

Jean Negulesco directs 1944’s The Conspirators, from a novel by Frederic Prokosch. In addition to the above-credited cast, the film features the on-screen talents of Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Victor Franken, as well as music by Max Steiner.

Created in attempt to replicate the success of Casablanca, The Conspirators was not a critical hit. The author of the source work wasn’t happy with the film either, according to TCM.

But I have to disagree with those critics and Mr. Prokosch. I really enjoyed watching this film! Romance, spies, Paul, Hedy, Peter Lorre, a fascinating setting… what’s not to love?

I found the film to be very moody and atmospheric, these attributes strengthened by dark, shadowy cinematography and the story itself. In an early scene, Vincent describes Lisbon as “a city of echos and shadows” — a perfect description of the city as portrayed in the film. Another quote stuck out to me for similar reasons, reflecting the overall feeling and theme of the film: “Lisbon has become a city of hidden wars. The vendettas of all Europe are raging in our cafes and plazas.”

Vincent’s time in Lisbon is very limited due to his 36-hour visa, adding a lot of tension to the film as he gets involved in scenarios that seem impossible to solve in such a short time. A hint of melancholy is brought in by the this-could-never-work nature of Vincent’s romance with Irene, a married woman who may be spying for the other side.

Paul Henreid and Hedy Lamarr are fantastic to watch together. Both give very good performances and they have strong chemistry, the script also giving them some nice banter to work with in several of their shared scenes.

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Henreid and Lamarr share many a swoon-worthy scene, but suspicions grow between them at times as well, heightening the film’s sense of drama. The viewer is left guessing as to whether one of them is lying, and where their true loyalties lie. Distrust grows between them at one point, especially from Vincent’s end… but it’s only temporary, of course, so as not to squash the appeal of the romance!

The film’s drama all leads up to a climactic revelation which leads to Vincent chasing a murderer through fog! A very exciting end to the film.

The Conspirators is often compared to Casablanca — and true enough, it could be a Casablanca sequel with a few changes, especially considering Paul Henreid’s roles in both. Those who tune in looking for a film that genuinely recaptures the magic of Casablanca will be disappointed, but I think it’s absolutely worth a look.

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