Sinister Cinema: Doc Savage Meets Bogie

On Sale Every Wednesday: Pulps in the Movies — and How!

Today hero-pulp stalwart Doc Savage shares a scene with Humphrey Bogart. Man, you cannot get any more pulp and movie than that, right?

Not that anyone ever spotted Doc’s cameo in all these years since 1945.

But we’ve got the eagle-eyed pulp enthusiast and movie savant John Locke working the mean streets, ready to break the story so everyone will know.

Here’s John with the scoop:

It’s a nation’s shame that the historic encounter of Doc Savage and Bogie — Pulp Icon meets Movie Icon — has gone unnoted until now.

In Conflict (1945) — one of the least known of Bogie’s films after Falcon made him a star — he sits at an interrogation table in police headquarters answering questions about his wife’s mysterious disappearance. To the left is the sister-in-law he’s secretly in love with (Alexis Smith), and on the right is a prominent psychiatrist and friend of the family (Sydney Greenstreet).

The table is strewn with books, pulps, and other magazines. Several shots — including in this closeup, at lower left — reveal the April 1940 Doc Savage:

From 1933-49, Doc was to the adventure story what The Shadow was to the detective tale: a larger than life hero embroiled in the most amazing of exploits.

And there are other pulps on the table, but the oblique camera angles wouldn’t allow identification.

The idea of the table seems to be that it was like a doctor’s waiting room where clients might need reading material to pass the time.

Which raises the question: Did actual waiting rooms in those days keep pulps on hand?

Notably, Conflict is the most Hitchcockian of Bogie’s films — not that that’s been a thing until now, either.

First, it’s a tale of suspense, not a mystery, since the murderer (Bogie) is revealed closer to the beginning of the story than the end.

Second, and most interesting, Conflict forms a weird thematic bridge between two of Hitchcock’s most haunting films. Conflict successfully mimics Rebecca (1940), Hitchcock’s only Best Picture winner, mesmerizingly demonstrating how a dead woman can cast a powerful shadow over the events of the present. (Note that Conflict was actually made two years before being released, when the memory of Rebecca would have been fresher in the creators’ minds. It was held up in a rights dispute over the source story, “The Pentacle,” by Alfred Neumann and Robert Siodmak.)

At the same time, Conflict foreshadows another Hitchcock classic, Vertigo (1958), based on a 1954 French novel, in which a dead woman’s spirit (Carlotta Valdes) seems to inhabit the present.

The difference is subtle, and Conflict deftly merges the two themes.

Critics quibble with the plausibility of Conflict’s plot, the way they used to with Vertigo.

But the real issue is how these films function as dreams — or nightmares. Dreams operate on a level where plot is less important than mood, but that makes them no less compelling while they’re being experienced.

Finally — because it’s the, er, stuff that dreams are made of — we circle home to the Black Bird. When Bogie’s murderer visits the office of the chief investigator of his wife’s case, what do we see on the top of the bureau?

The brooding presence of the Maltese Falcon!

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