johnlink ranks KEY LARGO (1948)

We interrupt this series of HARRY POTTER rankings for an old Bogart film. And not just any Bogart film, but a Bogie/Bacall film with Lionel Barrymore in a solid role, and Edward G. Robinson as the heavy! I saw this about a decade ago, and could instantly recall the premise (some gangsters and some ‘good’ people stuck in a hotel together during a hurricane), but the details had mostly faded. I do remember very much liking it though, so it was time to see it again.

I watched KEY LARGO (1948) on 1.9.12. It was my second viewing of the film, but first in a decade or so.

They just don’t make scripts like this anymore. This is a one-night, single-setting film which is tightly wound. Great, great lines to boot. Just classy, old school writing such as the response to a question regarding what happens during a hurricane: “The wind blows so hard the ocean gets up on its hind legs and walks right across the land.”

This isn’t film noir, per se, though the use of shadow in this black-and-white feature is top notch. Also, Bogart’s Frank McCloud is the sort of noir antihero who doesn’t necessarily have all the makings of a classic hero. However, this is more post-noir, as the hero can be flawed, the lighting and shadow can set the mood, but there is no need for the classic femme fatale or all nighttime sequences.

The biggest surprise for me was Claire Trevor as evil Johnny Rocco’s girl Gaye Dawn. She is just a marvel to watch. While she doesn’t steal the show from Lauren Bacall, she certainly has a meatier role, and is able to work some demanding scenes. Gaye is a has-been singer, an shaky alcoholic, a “lush” (to quote Rocco), and ultimately a hero. While the depth of character was surprising, it was not at all surprising to learn that Trevor won Best Supporting Actress for the portrayal.

This film just works beginning to end. There are moments of great tension, and moments where likable characters are prevented from doing the right thing, or incapable of doing the right thing. When the gangsters take over the supposedly closed-for-the-season hotel and hold Bogart, Bacall, and Barrymore captive all the right notes are hit in the script. It is a tight rope to walk to allow the three protagonists to mouth off just the right amount, but not enough to get themselves killed. John Huston directed this film and co-wrote the script. It was based on a play that he eventually came to hate for its deficiencies, and he had to make major changes to make it work as a film. He did a tremendous job.

Bogart is good in this. Huston knew how to use him better than anyone. Often that means just letting the camera stay on him while things are happening around his calm. Bogart may not have been a great character actor, but he knew how to emote within the confines of the on-screen persona he spent a decade perfecting. This is one of his best parts, even if he isn’t exactly stretching as an actor.

KEY LARGO goes in that very high tier of Bogart movies for me. It isn’t all-time-best like CASABLANCA or MALTESE FALCON, but it is certainly a great film and a must-see.






~ by johnlink00 on January 10, 2012.

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