What a great plot in this noir thriller. Bogart gives a superb performance as an unloved husband who kills his wife so he can be with his sister-in-law. But he has two problems: his perfect murder doesn’t quite work out, and Evelyn, the sister-in-law, isn’t ready to jump into his arms.
The result is a series of complications for Bogart’s Mason character, culminating in his entrapment by the police and Sidney Greenstreet, as Mason’s psychiatrist/friend. Clues emerge quickly. Since we see events from Mason’s troubled perspective, we’re left wondering if Kathryn, his wife, really is dead, or, more exotically, has come back to life, if only in his mind. In which case he’s going nuts.
It’s interesting that Mason finds himself working closely with the police; you’d think that’s the last thing he’d want. He’s kind of stuck. It makes sense for him to appear as though he were trying to help find the ‘killer’; on the other hand, he becomes so confused, irritated, and suspicious by the succession of clues and coincidences that he feels he has no choice.
Greenstreet painstakingly analyzes him, yet he has to maintain the illusion that their psychological conversations are hypothetical. Mason becomes completely flustered when he’s unable to pressure Evelyn into falling for him. He’s unwittingly acting out the narcissistic profile of the murderer that Greenstreet outlines for him. He’s so oblivious to her feelings that he convinces himself she comes back to be with him, not for the obvious reason that she’s worried about her sister.
He probably begins to hope that she actually didn’t die; then at least he can’t be accused of murder. Possibly, as Greenstreet wryly suggests, if she lived she could’ve lost her memory, which would also explain why she hasn’t come forward. That would be perfect; Mason couldn’t be accused of anything, her tumbling off the mountain road explainable as merely an accident.
Even without the murder, he’s hardly a sympathetic character. Kathryn has a haughty way with him; when he apologizes for his latent infidelity right after his injury, she assumes he’s just being opportunistic. Evelyn toys with him as well; but she is after all much younger than he, and understandably reticent about getting involved with him. In other words, in typical noir fashion, women can’t be trusted.
He shows no remorse for the killing, his concern is only to get away with it. And get away with Evelyn. His last talk with Hollsworth shows not only his decency to the man who suits Evelyn much better, but also gives us a look at a younger, less compromised version of himself.
Hollsworth’s subplot with Evelyn leads in a plausible romantic direction, instead of the tragic path that Mason follows. He’s doomed from the beginning. 9/10.