A Movie Partially Written by Ayn Rand

A review from the perspective of a fan
by David Hayes

Ayn Rand rewrote the dialogue for a movie script when she was employed by Hal Wallis, but subsequently her screenplay would be re-written again.  The movie is The Conspirators, and would be released in 1944 crediting as source the novel by Frederick Prokosch, with screenplay credit given to Vladimir Pozner and Leo Rosten.  Reportedly, two other writers created a completed script prior to Ayn Rand’s involvement, with the two credited writers being the last in a chain of possibly seven writers.  (The lack of Ayn Rand’s name on the finished film should not be taken as a slight to her.  Academy Award rules dictated that any writer credited for the screenplay must have written 25% of what reached the screen.  A writer who contributed less than 25% but more than 10% could receive an “additional dialogue by” or “additional material” credit.) (Concerning Rand’s involvement, see Letters of Ayn Rand, pg. 138)

The two most respected comprehensive references of capsule film reviews share a common assessment of The Conspirators.  Leonard Maltin’s movie guide describes it as “WW2 intrigue… with echoes of CASABLANCA.”  Leslie Halliwell in his “Film Guide” brands the movie as “a doomed attempt to reprise ‘Casablanca’ without Humphrey Bogart.”  It’s easy to grasp that Warner Bros. would have sought to make movies in 1944 that would share the audience appeal of Casablanca.

Casablanca had been a phenomenal public and critical success after its general release in late January 1943, following a premiere engagement limited to New York City beginning Thanksgiving Day.  Although the film’s belated Los Angeles release occurred that January and thereby prolonged the film’s eligibility for Academy Award consideration, Casablanca left such an indelible impression in Academy voters that in early 1944 they bestowed it many top honors for 1943.

Plans for a formal sequel to Casablanca took shape at Warner Bros.  The treatment had the action resuming where the previous film left off, with Capt. Reneau proving to have had a second agenda at the airport, and with he applying his rascally traits to the aid of the Allied forces.  Rick, however, becomes enmeshed with a Mata Hari-ish spy, and although Hal Wallis wrote memos to writers stating that this was unsuitable for the mood of a genuine sequel, no better plot threads were apparently suggested for the proposed and abandoned project.

Bogart nonetheless was part of a film attempting to repeat the success of CasablancaPassage to Marseilles reunited him with Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre from the earlier film, and again was set in—and had a title connoting—traditionally French jurisdiction on or near the Mediterranean.

Hedy Lamarr was not in the film of Casablanca nor in Passage to Marseilles, but she was a natural choice for a lead role in an attempt to re-create the atmosphere of the former film.  She was to play, or had played, Ilsa in a radio adaptation of Casablanca (opposite Alan Ladd), and was often considered for the same roles as Ingrid Bergman.  Lamarr, in her memoir (Ecstasy and Me: My Life as a Woman), names several films turned down by her that became successes for Bergman, as well as projects passed on by Bergman that Lamarr would accept to her advantage.  Both were eastern European in manner and accent, both exceedingly beautiful and demure.  Lamarr would be romantic lead in The Conspirators.

Ayn Rand would write in a letter, “I did it for Hal Wallis—and he has left Warners—and another producer [Jack Chertok would be credited] has taken over the picture, and changed everything, including the title.  So I don’t think there will be much of mine left in it.  Please don’t go to see it.  I’d hate to have you accuse me of somebody else’s mess.”  (Letters of Ayn Rand, pg. 138)

Is it a mess?  In many ways, yes.  Is there nothing discernible of Ayn Rand’s contribution?  The answer here is no, I believe, given occasional remnants in the movie of her sense of life.

A brief tour of the plot reveals how many story elements resemble those of Casablanca:


The Conspirators occasionally presents philosophic approaches contrary to Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.  These moments frequently have antithetical-to-life beliefs expressed by the protagonists, which would be against Ayn Rand’s nature in a work she herself developed.

As commented upon in the story synopsis, Henreid’s character behaves irrationally by assuming that Lamarr turned him into the police, that she trapped him, so he sounds off against her. (55m)  Lamarr acts against her romantic happiness by her staying with Hugo for no reason other than that, as she expresses to Henreid, “Hugo is risking everything, and he has nothing left but me.”  She adds, “I just wanted you to know that’s all he means to me,” as if Henreid’s knowledge that he is not be dis-values for himself will compensate for the loss of her companionship. (79m)

Aspects of the film antithetical to Ayn Rand’s sense of life are not limited to the words spoken and actions taken by characters.  The grand ballroom has being performed within it not just a Strauss waltz, but the one Ayn Rand singled out as abhorrent to her: “The Blue Danube.”  About this piece she wrote, “I like operetta music of a certain kind, but I would take a funeral march in preference to ‘The Blue Danube Waltz’… .”  (“Art and Cognition,” in The Objectivist, April 1971 installment, reprinted The Romantic Manifesto, revised ed., pb. pg. 53.)  Is this a coincidence?  Was this scene the cause of her dislike of the tune?


Some of Ayn Rand’s viewpoint does seem to have survived in the completed film.  Although this author does not have information as to which lines of dialogue were contributed by specific writers, the dialogue which is to be discussed in the remainder of this article does bear the stamp of Ayn Rand’s personality.  Thus, in the absence of knowledge of what Ayn Rand contributed, I submit the following descriptions of scenes and dialogue from the movie for your consideration as to whether Ayn Rand wrote the spoken words.


Joseph Calleia, in his role of the police detective, not only fills some of the function that Claude Rains had in Casablanca, but also seems to be doing a dry-run for his role as the police detective in Gilda, which would be made two years after The ConspiratorsGilda, starring Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford and George Macready, would again recycle the love-triangle of Casablanca, repeat many of the plot elements, and would have Joseph Calleia repeat many of the actions performed by Claude Rains’s in Casablanca… but that story requires an analysis as detailed as this one. I’ve written such an analysis, available at a click.

The film’s director, Jean Negulesco, believed the completed film the mess that Ayn Rand suspected it would be.  Negulesco stated years later:

Hal Wallis, one of Hollywood’s better producers, chose me to direct The Conspirators, a story in the vein of Casablanca.

He was then replaced by a minor producer.  The script was changed.  The film that had already been shot under the supervision of Wallis was discarded.  Location and the pace of the story were changed.  The stars took advantage of the situation, especially Hedy Lamarr.  Their demands were granted.  My job as a young director became a nightmare.  Secretly the film became known as The Constipators, with “Headache Lamarr” and “Paul Hemorroid” [Henreid].

The just valuation of the film was given by Max Steiner, called in to do the musical score.  We saw the finished produce together.  Hopefully I waited for his comment: just one word, “Ouch!”  The critics murdered the film—and me.  It seemed a good time to decide to withdraw from cinema and return to painting

This page © 1998, 2001 David P. Hayes

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