Film Diary: Key Largo (John Huston, 1948)

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Key Largo

A former US Army Major pays a surprise visit to a down-at-heel hotel in the Florida Keys to visit the father and widow of the friend and comrade with whom he served in Italy. Unwittingly he stumbles into a dangerous situation; gangster Johnny Rocco, with his henchmen and alcoholic moll, have taken over the hotel in the guise of a fishing party from Milwaukee, waiting out an imminent hurricane.

Those hoping for the cynical, wisecracking Bogart of earlier in the decade might be disappointed. Similarly, anybody looking for the kind of sexual sparks that made previous outings of Bogart and Bacall – in The Big Sleep and To Have And Have Not – will look in vain. It’s not that kind of film and it doesn’t call for that kind of role. Edward G Robinson holds centre stage and he is wonderful, his menace accentuated by his fear of the storm. And all the others can do – should do, because hot-headed bravado is fatal – is to wait patiently for a crack and exploit it.

That’s not to say that the performances are bad – they aren’t, they are superlative. And it doesn’t mean that there isn’t sexual tension there. There is, it’s just unspoken. What there is, is an hour and a half of agonising tension as Bogart and Robinson psych each other out. They say that John Huston didn’t know how to resolve it, so Howard Hawks gave him an unused ending of To Have And Have Not to bolt on. It doesn’t matter; this is a magnificent film and an eternal favourite of mine.

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