Monday, October 13, 2014

Recommended!: Key Largo (1948)

In the wake of the lamented passing of screen goddess Lauren Bacall earlier this year, a number of retrospectives in rep theatres across the country have resurrected her classic movies. We had a chance to revisit Key Largo, John Huston's 1948 drama (and Bacall's fourth and final film with co-star/husband Humphrey Bogart) and were delighted with how well it holds up, and how engrossing it remains.

Bogart is Frank McCloud, a former Army officer who heads to Key Largo to visit a hotel run by the family of a close friend killed during WWII. But McCloud finds himself right in the middle of a powderkeg, as gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) and his gang are the sole guests of the place, awaiting a crucial rendez-vous. And there's a powerful storm coming in, sending tensions to fever pitch even as Frank finds himself curiously attracted to Nora, his dead comrade's widow.

Liberally adapting Maxwell Anderson's play, Huston mines powerful suspense in the story's single setting, and the dialogue builds tension effectively as the storm escalates outside the hotel. The cast is uniformly strong; Claire Trevor, as an alcoholic moll who can't seem to escape Rocco's clutches, earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role. But the Bogart-Bacall chemistry lingers in the mind. Though their characters' attraction isn't a straight-up romance, the tension of their attraction is conveyed without a word. Watching Nora and Frank wordlessly tie off a boat in a nearby harbor there's much that isn't spoken - the weirdness of Frank literally taking his dead friend's place on the boat, the wrongness of the attraction that Frank and Nora feel even as they're feeling it. It's a deftly navigated love scene, all the more powerful for letting its emotions be felt, rather than explained.

In this and so many other ways it may be the kind of movie they simply don't make anymore, but happily you can still watch it. You should.

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