The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


The Cold War was admittedly a scary time for the U.S. with an almost constant threat of nuclear destruction and Communist takeover.  For almost 50 years, that threat was always looming, and movies, books, and TV shows reveled in it with a litany of classic Cold War thrillers.  One that wasn't so good?  1949's Conspirator which has the most naive, often inept Russian spy working undercover.  The worst part?  It's a romance.

In past reviews, I've made no bones about my blah reaction to Robert Taylor as an actor.   He was in his fair share of classics with many of the roles he played right in his wheelhouse, steely-eyed tough guys who got the girl in the end.  But as is the case here with Conspirator -- and a few other roles, keep your eyes out for another similar review -- Taylor took some challenging roles.  He was a bankable star who was able to pull in male and female audiences, but here, just four years since the end of WWII, Taylor plays a Commie spy who's deep undercover in the British army.  Kudos to him for having the guts to play that type of role.

However, that's where the positives end with his character.  For a guy who is a Russian agent he sure makes some mind-blowingly stupid decisions.  This is a guy who's life depends on being sneaky and deceptive while also being able to blend in living among a whole country of his enemies, but the idiotic decisions continue to mount.  There's outbursts left and right, especially at his wife, that call undue attention to his situation.  But it's not like the wife is doing anything wrong, Taylor leaves things out and then snaps.  The tension should be there in this situation, but the decisions are laughable, and it's hard to root for the secret agent who can't get anything done.

Going to school in England, 18-year old Melinda Greyton (Elizabeth Taylor) attends a dance with a friend and is bored out of her mind until a young officer, Major Michael Curragh (Taylor), walks in.  The young couple falls madly in love right away and are married soon after.  But Melinda starts to notice a list of weird happenings popping up; postcards with no names, night duties that pop up out of nowhere, outbursts completely out of the blue.  And as all these events mount up, Melinda begins to wonder if something else is going on.  Could Michael be hiding something?

Of course if you've read the first three paragraphs, you know that, yes, Michael is hiding something.  It seems like a wasted opportunity to not keep some mystery alive as to whether Michael is a Russian spy.  Within the first 20 minutes, we seem him meet his handlers so any of that mystery is gone.  1941's Suspicion played this angle up concerning Cary Grant's character, keeping the viewer guessing as to whether Grant is a murderer.  If Conspirator followed suit, it certainly couldn't have hurt the movie overall.  Instead, we get a movie where it's only a matter of time before Taylor's Melinda discovers the truth. 

Even when the big reveal could have been played up, instead we get a so obvious, hit you over the head reveal.  All the evidence mounts up -- Taylor "accidentally" wings his wife during a duck hunt -- but it's only when Melinda reads a note saying explicitly what's going on that she pieces it all together.  Even then, she believes their love is so strong that Michael is telling the truth that he's trying to resign.  Naive and in love is one thing, but just plain dumb is insulting enough as we watch this go on.

As the leads, the two Taylors are decent enough although it's hard to see why she falls for him so quickly.  It feels creepy saying this, but a 17-year old Elizabeth Taylor is certainly the looker, but this is not her strongest performance.  She does have the naivety of a 17-year old, but it's frustrating to watch just the same.  Honor Blackman and Robert Flemyng co-star as friends of Michael and Melinda, Blackman looking like she's about 15 years old.  The movie is a stinker and doesn't have much going for it.  Only die-hard fans of the two Taylors should probably seek this one out.

Conspirator (1949): */****

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