Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Key Largo (1948)
Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Lionel Barrymore are held captive in a hotel during a hurricane by Edward G. Robinson in a film that feels like a jumble between The Petrified Forest and Casablanca.
Frank McCloud (Bogart) is a former army officer who makes a visit to Key largo to see the widow (Bacall) and father (Barrymore) of a man who was under him in the war, only to find that their hotel is under the control of Johnny Rocco (Robinson)'s thugs. Things are tense at first, but quickly grow more threatening and dangerous as a hurricane keeps everyone trapped inside, and it falls to Frank to save the day.
The plot of this film plays out as if Rick from Casablanca was dropped into the middle of the diner in The Petrified Forrest. Frank is given the "I stick my neck out for no one" mentality, when we know that deep down inside he's really a hero. That's not necessarily a problem per se, but it does add a lot of predictability to the film since we know that he's going to have saved the day by the end of the film. And Lauren Bacall is totally wasted. As anyone who has seen The Big Sleep can attest to, Bacall is capable of being a great femme fatale, able to add a great deal of intelligence and mystery to her characters, but in this film she's just given a character who is a decent war widow and not much else, in fact, she doesn't even have that big of a part.
The more interesting female character is Gaye Dawn (which sounds like a group of Gay Skinheads), who is Rocco's alcoholic mistress, played brilliantly by Claire Trevor. She isn't afraid to make the character pathetic as she shakes and begs for a drink, even singing for Rocco in the hopes that she will be rewarded with her booze. Robinsoon is good as well, but it's a role he perfected years before.
I'm not trying to say that the film isn't good, because it is. The atmosphere is great and despite what I said, the performances are all top-notch. What's also interesting is the idea of how the world has changed because of people like Rocco and the question is raised if the world will every be the same. It's almost like the main point made in the recent film No Country for Old Men regarding evil in the world.
If you like this film, I really recommend The Petrified Forrest, which has a similar plot and also features Humphrey Bogart, this time as the criminal.