Monday, June 29, 2009

Key Largo (1948)

By Eric Jessen

A group of amateur actors and and an amateur director would have made a more interesting movie, because at least they would have tried. It's clear that Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson and director John Huston all give a “D” effort. I was wholeheartedly disappointed that I didn't watch something else. I just wasted an hour and forty minutes watching a cast of talented actors and a talented director mail one in. Maybe they were all just tired of working with each other. Huston and Bogart had done numerous movies together leading up to Key Largo, as well as Bogart and Bacall, seeing as how they were married. Maybe that's it, Bogart and Bacall were the worst failure in the movie, maybe they were having a tiff. They had absolutely no chemistry.
Bogart plays former war hero, Frank, now a drifter, who is “just passin' through” Key Largo to see an old friend, James, played by Lionel Barrymore. James is an old crippled hotel owner with an attractive daughter Nora (Lauren Bacall). Nora and Frank hit it off immediately. Nora loves Frank's courage, and the rest of the movie will be one big test of that courage. While at the hotel Frank notices something “funny” going on. It turns out the hotel is being run by notorious gangster Johnny Rocco (Robinson). Rocco is in Key Largo to do something illegal that will make him rich, the only problem is a giant hurricane is on its way. Nora, Johnny, Frank, Rocco, and the whole gang are stuck for the night in the hotel together while they weather the storm.
It was extremely difficult to describe the story in Key Largo because there basically isn't one. There are just a lot of caricatures. There is a gangster, a hero, some goons, an old crippled man, and a girl. Bogart seemed bored with his role and Bacall was about as stone faced as a woman injected with too much Botox. Edward G. was not much better. He looked like he was going through the motions in the gangster role. There were many strong supporting role performances by the likes of Lionel Barrymore, and Clair Trevor that were lost in an otherwise bad movie. Trevor was particularly good as Edward G's drunken mistress. She gives life to the few scenes she's in, including the best scene in the movie when she humiliates herself all for one drink (Huston's direction of the cast's reaction features some of his talent).
Warner Brothers was trying to get as much money as possible out of this ensemble, but by 1948, after The Big Sleep, To Have and Have Not (two Hawks movies, with Bacall and Bogart), and The Maltese Falcon (Huston and Bogart), they had made one too many. Key Largo was the failure of the bunch. It doesn't just have bad acting, it also looks cheap in an overly studio way. It's easy to see the fake backdrops of palm trees and white sandy beaches. I felt cheated by the opening shots of actual Key Largo.
Bogart, Huston, Edward G, and the rest are all artists, capable of brilliant performances, but they're also regular people, and Key Largo was their version of a bad day (100 days of shooting to be exact) at work.

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