Saturday, January 12, 2019

Movie Reviews: Key Largo

Key Largo
directed by John Huston
In some respects this Bogie-Bacall collaboration, their last one, is a noir film and in others it's a movie masquerading as one. Its cynicism hides an optimism and can-do spirit. The other interesting thing about this film is how the actors of the time, even many of the stars, would be considered normal to average looking people today. Although Humphrey Bogart had massive screen presence would women today consider him handsome? I can't call it. Similarly Lauren Bacall could certainly be considered striking but I don't know that I'd call her beautiful. 

And Edward G. Robinson wasn't handsome by the standards of any time. And yet despite that, or even because of that this movie feels real. The stars and the character actors do not stand out from the film; they are the film. Like many films of the time and the genre Key Largo makes judicious use of lighting and setting to set up the internal and external battle between good and evil.  

The impending storms and resulting darkness and shadows match perfectly the emotional and psychological challenges being wrestled with by the main characters. Also this film shows that it is possible to make a tense, interesting adult movie without nudity, cleavage or even explicit violence. This movie produced a Best Supporting Actress win for Claire Trevor.

After WW2 former Army Major Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart) visits the Florida Keys hotel owned by James Temple (Lionel Barrymore), a crippled but garrulous and forceful man who is assisted by his daughter-in-law Nora (Lauren Bacall). Frank was the commanding officer of deceased soldier George Temple, who was James' son and Nora's husband. Both James and Nora say that George spoke very highly of Frank. 

They're eager to meet Frank and get some war stories about George. Frank, who is almost certainly suffering from PTSD and depression. tells them of George's heroics but the perceptive Nora quickly deduces that the self-effacing and guilt-ridden Frank is speaking of his own heroics and just giving George the credit. As it is the winter (hurricane season) the hotel lacks guests except for a handful of unfriendly snappily dressed men who have apparently driven off everyone else. It soon becomes apparent that although James would prefer that these men leave they won't do any such thing. 

These fellows report to Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson), a once great Prohibition-era gangster who has fallen on hard times. Previously deported to Cuba, Johnny has snuck back into to the U.S. to complete a deal that he thinks will finance his return to the top. He and Frank take an almost immediate dislike to each other. Additionally Frank doesn't like the sadistic manner in which Johnny treats his long suffering alcoholic girlfriend  Gaye (Claire Trevor). But Johnny and his friends have guns and aren't afraid to use them. Frank is unarmed and claims to be uninterested in being a hero. As Johnny openly takes them hostage, James, Nora and others look to Frank for leadership. Does Frank want to bother? Why should he stick his neck out?

The tension rises along with the storm throughout the night as Johnny and Frank spar verbally. Johnny paradoxically respects people who stand up to him but is also intolerant of anyone giving him backtalk. This movie has a subplot about law enforcement and local Seminoles which was probably considered liberal for the times but comes across as horribly patronizing today. All in all if you like classic older films, you should see this.
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