Thursday, June 13, 2013

Key Largo (1948)

1 Nomination, 1 Win

Win: Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Claire Trevor

Key Largo is, for lack of a better term, a chamber noir.  With a hurricane bearing down on the Largo Hotel in Key Largo, Florida, the film's characters are stuck together in the hotel, where the great majority of the film's action takes place.  This is a promising enough premise, but with a cast consisting of Humphrey Bogart, Edgard G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore, Lauren Bacall, and Claire Trevor under the direction of John Huston, Key Largo is an engrossing, taut little drama.

One of the strengths of Key Largo is that it allows each performer to play completely to type: Bogart as the tough talking antihero whose self preservation instincts are challenged by the desire to do the right thing, Robinson as the fierce and menacing gangster, Barrymore as the cranky and obstreperous patriarch, Bacall as the mysterious ingenue, and Trevor as the bad girl.  Instead of leading to predictability, this casting is instead a sort of noir "dream team," and it is a pleasure to watch each of these performers in the roles they are well known for interact with one another.

The film's screenplay, adapted by Richard Brooks and John Huston from a play by Maxwell Anderson, doesn't tell a terribly compelling story, though the dialogue is crisp and perfectly suited for the film's stars.  But even without a great story, Key Largo is about watching these great performers interact with one another in a closed setting, and in this the film is an absolute joy to watch.

The film's sole nomination came for Claire Trevor's performance as the alcoholic companion of Edward G. Robinson's character, and Trevor's performance earned her the Academy Award (she was nominated twice more in her career for the films Dead End (1937) and The High and the Mighty (1954)).  Playing an alcoholic is a great way to win an Oscar, but Trevor avoids many of the standard tropes of the alcoholic performance.  The scene in which she sings a song in order to earn a drink is absolutely devastating, and her reaction when the drink is then denied to her is even more painful.  When Bogart's character defies Robinson's and gives her the drink anyway, the relief is palpable, a sign of the effectiveness of Trevor's performance.

The final of four films starring Bogart and Bacall, Key Largo is less about their relationship than their other films.  Though their chemistry is as obvious as always, it seems almost beside the point.  The film dips into sentimentality by the end, and a starker ending would have been a more natural conclusion.  Still, Key Largo is a fine chamber film that proves that a noir film need not be set on shadow-filled city streets.

Remaining: 3139 films, 868 Oscars, 5393 nominations

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