Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Key Largo (1948)

Terrific noir-inflected drama with Humphrey Bogart's ex-major and Edward G. Robinson's refugee mobster caught in a push-pull standoff when they and several others hole up in a hotel during a hurricane. Director John Huston uses this setting and tense situation to examine the meaning of cowardice, with Bogart as the smart-talking military man torn between self-preservation and what he knows is right and Edward G. as the snarling thug who uses his words like he uses his guns. (In this vein, the film's best moment is when Bogart, taunting a visibly nervous Robinson, tells him to intimidate the hurricane by shooting at it.) What impresses most, though, is that the cowardice stuff is all subtext -- it's possible to ignore all that and still have a good time grooving on the crackling action and the sharp dialogue. It's man at his manliest! I do wonder, though, between this and Fat City what Huston's thing for blowsy, overplayed drunken harridans is. (Not to say Claire Trevor isn't fine in her role -- she is, and she has a number of interesting bits, most notably the scene where she literally tries to sing for her supper -- but I just wonder wherefore the attraction.) Also, it seems not only appropriate but inexorable that Huston would have Bogart's character drawn to the hotel in part by events that took place at the Battle of San Pietro, no?

Grade: A-


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