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  • Once upon a time, television was a place of wondrous discovery. The most strange and surprising things were liable to turn up at any time, despite the fact that most people only had 8 to 12 channels to choose from. Alas, with the advent of syndication and cable, those days have virtually disappeared. Now, we are blessed with 500 channels of bland, cookie cutter pap. Which brings me to the case at hand.

    I saw "Conspiracy" at 3:05 CDT this morning. It ran on WLS Ch.7 in Chicago. Ch.7 - bless 'em! - is one of the last stations in existence to maintain a film library stocked with treasures that, in some cases, may not have been seen in the last 50 years. "Conspiracy" was one of those rare treats that TV used to be all about. It's a true oddity even for it's time ( 1930 ). Starring the redoubtable Ned Sparks, an actor once well enough known that Warner based a cartoon character - ( a suspender wearing rooster ) - upon him, it's about a woman in peril ( Bessie Love ), an intrepid reporter ( Hugh Trevor ) and a bizarre crime novelist named Winthrop Clavering who, for some reason, goes by the nickname of Little Nemo. Oh, and it's based upon a play, which helps explain some of the, at times, stilted dialogue.

    As for details of the story; well, there really isn't much need to go into them. Oh, OK; a girl murders a mobster who is out to get her brother and spends the rest of the film dealing with the characters mentioned above, as well as trying to protect the brother from mob vengeance. Mostly the movie deals with the oddball Nemo, a cantankerous coot who is convinced he can outsmart the cops and solve the mystery. Still with me? The fascination of obscurities such as "Conspiracy" is that they give us a glimpse into a world that is so alien to most of us that it is positively breathtaking. These are characters that even a 60 year old codger such as myself find totally unfamiliar. For example, the heroin is clad in a fox stole that would give PETA the screaming heebie jeebies. I mean, this thing is so complete - head, tail and feet - that you almost expect it to start talking. Other period touches include a Black maid with a smart mouth, and assorted exotic villains who speak in indeterminate foreign accents and wear odd jewelry.

    Now, if all this sounds as intriguing to you as it was to me, then I urge you to seek out "Conspiracy" at all costs. Unfortunately, it won't be easy. Perhaps a better idea would be to give your "local" cable company bloody heck for not having more programming such as this readily available. In either case, good luck!
  • ... and the results are weird and wondrous. If you've always wanted to see Ned Sparks dressed like Darkman jumping up and down on furniture like an ape and constantly addressing himself in the third person such as "Little Nemo" does this and "Little Nemo" does that, this is your film.

    The movie opens on a scene in a hotel room with a dead body on the floor, and Bessie Love as Margaret Holt standing over the body with a bloody letter opener in her hand. She's a victim of circumstance right? Wrong, she did it, but there is much more to the story than her looking embarrassingly guilty of cold blooded murder.

    Margaret escapes down the fire escape before she can be discovered and goes to a neighborhood house - what passed for social services before there really was such a thing and seeks a job under an alias claiming she's a traveler who has lost her purse and thus all of her money. Unfortunately for her the police know who she is, know what she looks like, and know she was in the room. She'd be caught in no time if not for two people. First, a reporter that figures out who she is and how she figures in the crime but loves the girl at first sight and decides to help her. Second is irritable author "Little Nemo" alias Winthrop Clavering (Ned Sparks). The reporter gets Margaret a job as Clavering's stenographer since Clavering is such a hermit when he's working nobody will ever look for her in his home. The complicating factor here - Clavering is a crime author who is proud of his record of solving every crime he puts his mind to, and his new crusade is to solve and write about the murder Margaret just committed before the police figure it out. This leaves Margaret with the distasteful job of transcribing the details of her own crime. I'll let you watch and see how this all unravels.

    Like the other reviewer, you just can't help but be struck by two things - both concerning Bessie Love. First there is that fur, which is actually the entire animal, wrapped around her neck. It looks like she just clubbed the poor beast ten minutes ago and hung it there. Secondly is the over emoting Bessie Love is doing during the entire film. If I hadn't already seen Love in earlier talkies over at MGM and had seen her talent in talking film, I'd have my doubts about her, but given past performances I'll have to chalk this one up to probable bad direction. At the film's midpoint it gets so tedious you want someone to tell the girl to switch to decaf if there was such a thing in 1930.

    The real drawing point of the film though, is the irascible Ned Sparks as Little Nemo. This has got to be his weirdest role ever and he just makes the film. He is made up so strangely with that disheveled hair and those dark glasses that if it wasn't for his trademark voice it would be hard to recognize him. He steals the film and I highly recommend that you watch his larceny.
  • wes-connors25 October 2014
    In New York City, the camera catches blonde stenographer Bessie Love (as Margaret Holt) standing over a dead body, wielding a sharp letter opener. Hearing folks outside the deceased's hotel room, Ms. Love takes the fire escape to elude arrest. Young newspaper reporter Hugh Trevor (as Jack Howell) is on the scene and falls in Love. He learns the victim was a big-time narcotics pusher who had abducted Love's brother. Her brother is a district attorney. Investigating the crime is cantankerous mystery novelist Ned Sparks (as Winthrop "Little Nemo" Clavering). To make it easy, Love goes to work for Mr. Sparks, who lives in a mansion with slavish Gertrude Howard (as Martha)...

    This is a re-make of a Broadway play and "silent" movie starring John Emerson. It should have been left there. Top-billed Love, who worked with Mr. Emerson and director Christy Cabanne in the 'teens, had a career resurgence in "talking" pictures. Appearing uncomfortable herein, Love most notably wears a fox fur that is complete, from head to tail. Too bad her character is not a ventriloquist. It's probably a good thing Love plays second-fiddle to Sparks, who is the actual leading player in the story. While it's good to see Sparks in a rare starring role, his character is annoying throughout. Those looking for racial stereotypes in old films should find Ms. Howard's "Martha" of interest.

    *** Conspiracy (8/3/30) Christy Cabanne ~ Ned Sparks, Bessie Love, Hugh Trevor, Gertrude Howard
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A conversation between a trio of "out of towners" along the lines of "we'll have to go back to our hick towns to find the excitement that was missing in this city"... of course behind the door a crime has taken place. Bessie Love frantically tries to escape the room where a man's corpse lies.

    Love had been around since the teen years and it was her dynamic portrayal of Hank in "The Broadway Melody" that gave her career a boost. "Conspiracy" was made in the middle of her revival although the next year she made her last American movie for 20 years. Co-starring with her was the zany Ned Sparks, always a terrific asset to any movie he appeared in and also Hugh Trevor. Trevor was a reluctant star who had come to the attention of a relative who worked at Radio. He was considered handsome and could carry a song so he was given the male lead in "The Cuckoos". He ended up in a few crime movies before drifting back to the insurance profession.

    This is a terrific little crime movie with Bessie in an all stops out, highly dramatic performance, proving her emoting in "The Broadway Melody" was no fluke. It has you reeled in instantly as Love, going by the name of Martha Hunter (one of the many aliases she goes by in this movie) flees to the local Neighbourhood House where she concocts a story of being an "innocent alone in a big city" and in desperate need of a job (anything that will take her out of circulation)!!! The manageress takes pity on her but in her younger days she was also a "sob sister", so she also feels pity for a young news hound Jack Howell (Trevor) who comes searching for a young girl he helped out of a jam earlier that evening. You guessed it - it's Martha and finally the truth comes out - she is the sister of a missing crusading D.A. and she is trying her best to expose gangster Romano's drug empire. With her it is personal: she has seen too many of the girls she worked with go down that road. Her story proves a sensation and when eccentric amateur criminologist Winthrop Clavering requires a stenographer - Martha is hired. But Clavering seems to have a first hand knowledge of the recent crime... it's Ned Sparks and rarely has he had a role where he is centre stage!! The role gives full vent to his raspy voice and oddball sense of dry humour. I kept on expecting him to whip off his old man's disguise and chuckle "I fooled you all - it's really me, Ned"!! Playing the terrible trio of crooks were Ivan Lebedeff, the beautiful Rita La Roy and growly Walter Long.

    "Conspiracy" first saw light of day as a long running stage play from 1912-1914 written by John Emerson who along with his wife Anita Loos, was responsible for many of the scintillating scripts for the silent movies!!
  • "Conspiracy" is a murder mystery film from Radio Pictures. When it debuted in 1930, audiences most likely enjoyed it but today it's a big hard to take---mostly due to sound issues. What many 1929-30 films struggled with was finding a proper balance for talking now that films had sound. In some, they stood around yapping incessantly--mostly to show off the new medium and also because early microphones were not very good and necessitated the actors standing in one spot near a hidden mic. In the case of "Conspiracy", the film tries too hard to show off the talking--with Ned Sparks playing a character who is about as subtle as a nudist showing up at a Baptist barbecue. He talks and talks and talks--and at a very high volume. For 1930 his performance might not have been too bad...but seen today it stinks. This is also the case for the star of the film, Bessie Love. While she isn't shrill like Sparks, she seems ill at ease talking on camera....and by 1931 (despite an Oscar nomination for a movie made just two years earlier), her time in Hollywood was about at an end. The bottom line is that by 1932-33, mystery films and films in general were better made and age much watch this one at your own risk.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    There's so much to love in this fun bad movies that the only place to begin is with the murder of the drug lord played by Otto Matieson. He is probably the most effete drug lord I've ever seen on screen, and his performance is just the beginning of how badly acted this melodrama is. Bessie Love is his secretary, the sister of the district attorney out to find evidence to put him away and break up the drug ring, and we see her holding a knife after Matieson has told his cohorts on the phone that he is about to die. When we first meet Love, she's claiming to have lost her purse after just arriving in town from Chicago, and ends up as the secretary to the very bizarre Ned Sparks who is allegedly dictating the details that he knows about the murder, or ones that he's making up in his demented mind. Hugh Trevor, as Bessie's boyfriend, is desperately trying to help her but he can barely get into Sparks' apartment, thanks to his housekeeper played by Gertrude Howard, the victim of a string of some of the most bizarre verbal assaults I've ever heard on screen.

    If you recognize Gertrude Howard, she is the Beulah that Mae West asked to peel her a grape, and if that task seems bizarre, just wait until you see Howard trying to help Sparks get over a back spasm. This script must have been written in a speakeasy because no sober person would write such dialogue. Sparks, whom I consider the Walter Matthau of the 1930's, is best known as the director in "42nd Street" and "Gold Diggers of 1933", and in old man disguise is so bizarrely funny that you can't help but laugh with him and at him. I can't exactly call this a good movie, but once you see it, it's one that will be certainly a conspiracy to try to forget.
  • Bessie Love, Hugh Trevor, Rita La Roy and Ivan (the terrible) Lebedeff reunite for this organised crime drama that sees her accidentally murder a mobster who has it in for her D.A. brother. The police haven't got too much of a clue, but when she confesses to reporter "John", he spirits her away with the rather acerbic, bonkers, crime writer "Little Nemo" (Ned Sparks) who proves to be more than adept at deducing who did what to whom whilst she acts as his stenographer... To be honest, the story doesn't really matter much - it's the eccentric effort from Sparks and the nervous wreck that is Love - replete with her rather uncomfortable looking collection of skull-wrap bonnets - that make the escapades work quite engagingly for 70 minutes. The ending is a bit daft, and you will quickly forget that you ever watched it - but I think it will raise a smile or two along the way.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Conspiracy (1930) is a really weird movie. It's not a good movie, mind. It's not even a movie I would recommend to anyone except rabid fans of Bessie Love and Ned Sparks – and even they would probably not be impressed. Bessie Love plays a murderess. Although she could plead self-defense (and the gangster she kills deserved a bullet anyway), she is a wake-up to New York's corrupt police force and knows only too well that she wouldn't even last a night in their "custody". So she flees and somehow manages to find sanctuary with a really weird oddball who fancies himself as a mystery writer and solver of all capital crimes, both real and imaginary. The oddball is played – in an outlandish disguise that he never removes – by Ned Sparks who totally forgets – and when I say "totally", I mean "TOTALLY" – that he's making a movie on a sound stage, not treading the boards at the Belasco. In a hammy, disguised voice, he shouts every word of his lines to penetrate the furthest rows of the Gallery. And what was the director doing while Ned was sparking away? Nothing! Poor old Christy Cabanne didn't have a clue how to direct a sound film – this was his first, although sound effects and a music score were added to his Annapolis (1928) – and that lack of expertise is painfully obvious. RKO had such little faith in the movie, they couldn't even nail down a release date for me, although it would have to be either August 3 or August 10. Nor was there any record that the movie had even played in New York (where the story is actually set), but I was able to tell them the movie opened in Los Angeles on September 3, 1930. RKO did have a synopsis in their files, but most of the first half of the plot does not appear on the screen at all. Either it was cut before the movie was released or it was never filmed at all. Available on an excellent Warner Archive DVD.

    For completists, an excellent print is now available on a cut-price Alpha DVD. The best thing about it is the superb cover which reproduces the original theatrical one-sheet poster. The poster is great -- one of the most startling I've ever seen -- but the movie is not. In fact, the poster is totally misleading. I'd describe the film as a ham and eggs movie. The ham is supplied by Bessie Love and Ned Sparks, both of them easy winners of 1930's top awards for the year's hammiest performances. Sparks is obviously under the impression that movie acting is the same as stage acting. He shouts every line -- and I mean EVERY line -- at the top of his voice. Worse still, the movie is all talk and very little action. Even the climax disappoints and the lovely Rita La Roy has only a tiny role.