CONFLICT. Warner Brothers, made in 1943, but not released till ’45. Humphrey Bogart, Alexis Smith, Sydney Greenstreet, Rose Hobart. Screenplay by Arthur T. Horman and Dwight Taylor, from the story “The Pentacle” by Robert Siodmak and Alfred Neumann. Directed by Curtis Bernhardt.

   An off-beat misfire that has its moments, Conflict will disappoint some Bogart fans, because it reverses the stereotype: Bogie is the bad guy here and Sydney Greenstreet the amateur detective who trips him up. And when I say that, I’m not selling any state secrets: The capsule reviews of this film all say up front that Bogie kills wife Rose Hobart and makes a play for sister-in-law Alexis Smith. The slip-up that incriminates him is perfectly obvious to mystery fans the second he makes it, and director Curtis Bernhardt even throws in a reaction shot of Sydney Greenstreet — well — reacting to the clue.

   The real plot of Conflict hovers around Bogart’s growing suspicion that the wife he thoroughly killed is not actually dead –- or worse, that she may be dead, but making her presence felt anyway; her personal effects show up in odd places, notes in her handwriting land on his desk… The sense of Bogart’s growing dread in a world gone awry would become a staple of film noir, but since we know they’re on to him, and we’ve figured out this is Greenstreet’s strategy for making him tip his hand, it counts for very little here.

   On the other hand, I have to say that Conflict was done with the usual Warners’ care and polish. There are some striking visuals here, with the studio fog machine pumping full-blast, and some intelligent dialogue that coveys the weakness in our protagonist but retrains our sympathy.

   And there is one aspect of Conflict (whatthehell does that title mean, anyway?) that deserves discussion and it’s the kind of thing that is better discovered than described, so I’m giving the following WARNING! If you think you might see this movie sometime in the near future or remember these comments unduly, skip the next paragraph!

   At the ending, tormented by fear, Bogart betrays himself and finds it’s all been a (sigh) trick. We were expecting this all along, but it’s handled in a surprisingly insightful fashion. As Bogart prepares to face his worst fears and make the mistake that will cost him dearly, the camera angles upward to his face, lit from below, like a man at the edge of a precipice summoning up the courage to jump.

   And when he’s caught, what comes across most compellingly is his sense of relief. His capture is not so much comeuppance as catharsis, and there’s an unexpected look of relief on his face as they slap the cuffs on him and lead him upwards toward the light; the whole ending, in fact, is played with a surprising sense of redemption that seems to put the rest of the film in a whole new context — one of the unexpected and perhaps inadvertent pleasures that sometimes come out of Hollywood.