Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Movie Review: Key Largo (1948)

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall exchange psychobabble that veers erratically between embarrassing and unconvincing. Edward G. Robinson chews the scenery, chews the cigar, and chews out anyone who looks at him sideways. A lot of henchman stand around in the background, sweating hard and trying harder to find something to do as director John Huston's cameras focus on his stars. A storm rages outside, gaining in intensity as the bad guys gain the upper hand, blowing in the shutters at climactic moments, with the sun bursting forth on cue when the good guys win the day.

Johnny Rocco (Robinson), a deported thug who once ran a criminal empire, washes up with his gang at a Key Largo hotel run by the wheelchair-bound James Temple (Lionel Barrymore) and his daughter-in-law Nora (Bacall). Rocco's gang takes over the hotel as they wait for the arrival of another group of thugs to conclude a money laundering deal.

Arriving just at the wrong moment as far as Rocco is concerned is war hero Frank McCloud (Bogart), and soon after him a massive storm blows in to batter the hotel and its occupants. The heart of the story is the battle of wits, will-power, and survival between Rocco and McCloud, interrupted by the fluttering emotions between Frank and Nora, the bombastic booziness of Rocco's wife (Claire Trevor, neither searching for nor finding nuance), and a hopelessly appended sub-plot about some Indians on the run from the law.

It's all silly, classic fun, stage-bound for sure, none of it really very good, but engrossing nevertheless once the mental war erupts between Bogart and Robinson. Key Largo is highly watchable entertainment, relying almost entirely on the strength of its cast to overpower and beat into submission a contrived story. Sometimes, the performers just are the performance.

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