A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Key Largo (John Huston, 1948)

This was the fourth and last of the films that Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made together, but the movie was stolen by Claire Trevor, who won a supporting actress Oscar, and by Bogart's old partner in Warner Bros. gangster movies, Edward G. Robinson. It's a little too talky and stagy, partly because it was based on a 1939 Broadway play by Maxwell Anderson, a once-admired playwright whose specialty was blank-verse dramas. Huston and co-screenwriter Richard Brooks took great liberties with the play, changing the characters and the ending, and updating the action to the postwar era, but occasionally you can hear a bit of Anderson's iambic pentameter in the dialogue. Bogart's Frank McCloud was originally called King McCloud and was a deserter from the Spanish Civil War; in the movie he's a World War II veteran, something of a hero, who comes to Key Largo to visit the father (Lionel Barrymore) and the widow (Bacall) of an army buddy who was killed in Italy. He finds them being held in the hotel they own by a group of gangsters, headed by Johnny Rocco (Robinson), a Prohibition-era mobster who is trying to sneak back into the States after being deported. As so often -- cf. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1943) and To Have and Have Not (Howard Hawks, 1944) -- the Bogart character is called on to make a choice between taking the kind of action he has renounced and remaining neutral. Bacall's role is somewhat underwritten, and what few sparks she and Bogart strike seem to be the residue of their previous films together, especially To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep (Hawks, 1946). Having to play opposite that scene-stealing old ham Barrymore doesn't help much, either. But Trevor fully deserved her award as Rocco's moll, an alcoholic club singer known as Gaye Dawn. She has a big moment when she's forced by Rocco to sing "Moanin' Low" on the promise that he'll let her have a drink -- which he then sadistically refuses her. As usual, Robinson is terrific, and also as usual, he failed to receive the Oscar nomination he deserved and was never granted. Karl Freund's cinematography helps overcome the studio's decision not to film on location.

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