Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Key Largo (1948)

It's interesting to see a film where the smouldering chemistry between Bogart and Bacall is not the most memorable relationship in the film.  That chemistry is still there, of course, but it is the interaction between Bogart and his on-screen nemesis Edward G. Robinson that really drives this film.

Bogart plays Frank, a disillusioned WW2 veteran who has come to the Florida Keys to visit the father of a deceased comrade.  He's considering settling in the area - a consideration that might well be reinforced when he meets his dead friend's widow.

All is not well at the older man's hotel, however.  A group of men - and one hard-drinking woman - have hired the entire building for a week.  There's something not right about the strangers; a hardness and suspiciousness that gives way to too-eager friendliness when it becomes clear that Frank will be staying the night.  Who are these people, and why do they jump so quickly to the orders of the unseen Mr Brown, who almost never emerges from his room?

Frank figures he has other things to worry about, like the pretty widow (Bacall, natch), a couple of native Americans on the run from the law, and oh yeah, a hurricane.  But of course things aren't going to be that easy.  "Mr Brown" is gangster Johnny Rocco, returning from exile in Cuba to make a big score.  When Rocco's secret comes out, it will be all Frank can do to keep himself and his friends alive.

The struggle between Frank and Rocco is the core of this film.  It's a pretty one-sided struggle most of the time, of course.  Rocco has a gang of armed thugs, while Frank is alone, and Frank's no John McClane.  He's spent three grim years fighting on the Italian front and he's got no desire to be a hero (especially a dead one).

Of course, Frank's chances of getting out of all this without committing a little bit of heroism here and there are pretty slim.  It's a movie after all.  A pretty good one, I am glad to say.  The cast is solid and the script holds together well, though it is sometimes a little ham-fisted.

If you don't mind a slower pace to your thrillers than today's more action-focused fare tend to be, then this is worth a look.

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